I had heard a lot about how for a lot of study-abroad students, the real culture shock doesn’t set in until reentry. I didn’t think this would be the case for me; what could possibly shock me about my own country?
Just as they had warned, I really did have an abrupt awakening upon reentry. Perhaps it was just the taxing nature of traveling halfway across the world, but arriving in an American airport was a culture shock and a half.
The first thing I noticed, believe it or not, was the holiday spirit. Even though I spent half the month of December in China, I didn’t really ever feel like it was the month of Christmas, whereas if I were in America, the holiday celebration would have started all the way back in November. I looked up at the giant wreaths and twinkling lights of the O’Hare Airport and felt like I was a little kid again, ready for the magic of Christmas Day.
The next shock came from how many different kinds of people I saw all in one place. That’s not to say that China is not diverse; quite the contrary, as they have 56 ethnic groups—and those are only the ones officially recognized. Despite this, America really is a beautiful melting pot of every kind of person you can imagine, and the best place to witness that? Definitely the airport.
Since then, I’ve had a few other little instances of culture shock. One I definitely expected to experience: what to do with used toilet paper. In China, you don’t throw toilet paper into the toilet. There is always a little basket in the stall specifically for used toilet paper. You can bet I’ve had a few close calls in America where I almost threw my toilet paper to the side out of habit.
Speaking of toilets, I actually miss bathrooms where there isn’t one. What I mean is squatting toilets, where the toilet is just a porcelain hole in the floor. No need to worry about cold toilet seats in the winter with a squat toilet!
Another thing I miss is the ready availability of hot water. I caught a cold within my first few days back in the states and all I wanted was some good ole hot water to make me feel better, but alas, I had to heat it myself!
Overall, however it was a pretty smooth transition back into American life—truthfully aided by returning back to my retail job right away, a very effective way to get over jet lag.
I hope sharing my experience here has been helpful, entertaining, and insightful!