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(Non-) Culture Shock


(Non-) Culture Shock

Megan Harrod

Reverse culture shock. Ever had it? I have. Hit me hard when I returned from Prague, after living and traveling there for nearly two years. I came home and I was like a fish out of water. Why? First off, I missed my expat family immensely. I had established roots in Prague that most expats who had lived there for years had not established - both with locals and expats. I didn't understand 75% of what was going on around me because I didn't speak Czech, so I had grown accustomed to tuning everything out. Even - and especially - American media and current events. I absolutely loved my job. The hosteling industry is a special one, built around creating a community and exploring a new destination. It felt right for me. I had the freedom to travel near and far - from weekend sojourns by myself to Spanish getaways in Valencia with gal friends. The friends I had in Prague were more like family...they would have dropped anything, even in the wee hours of the morning, to help a friend in need. When I returned home I was thrust into a whole different world: I could hear everything so keenly. I had never thought that I'd experience that feeling, but it was true - I unwillingly listened to strangers' conversations because my ears weren't used to hearing my native language so much. I remember visiting Times Square in New York months after I had returned and still feeling my chest tighten and my anxiety grow. Welcome home to 'MURICA...where everything is bigger, brighter, and louder. News broadcasters were aesthetically jarring to me, and wore way too much make-up. I yearned for my weekend travels to foreign countries. But, as I've learned throughout my travels, the people make a place and I missed the people so deeply. The value of friendship wasn't the same in the U.S. either. What I realized most was that I had changed to the core, and everything and everyone around me was the same as I had left it/them two years prior.

This time it feels different. Sure, I learned lessons on the road as a solo female traveler. I learned that the way we do things in the west isn't always the best way. I learned that the value of human life is different depending on your geographical location. I learned that sometimes, when you least expect it, shit happens. In your pants, even. And it can be really, really uncomfortable. I learned that ego is something we, as humans, will always struggle to keep in check. I learned that sometimes it's better to have a travel companion, and sometimes it's better to travel alone. I learned that we - in the U.S. - are generally clueless about life in faraway lands, unless we have traveled those lands ourselves. I learned that every traveler has a different experience with a place depending on what kind of heart and mind they bring to that place. I learned that if you can travel in India as a single solo traveler, you can travel anywhere in the world. I learned a lot. But the biggest lesson I learned was the value of a place called "home," thousands of miles away in Utah. I was actually looking forward to heading back. I had never felt that before. This was a foreign feeling, after what I experienced in returning from adventures like Prague. You see, when I returned from Prague - though it was my choice - I wasn't ready to come back. I felt as though Prague had broken up with me, but I wasn't ready to say "goodbye." With India, I was ready to go back to my Utah basecamp.

But culture shock?! Nope...I didn't feel culture shock when I returned. Sure, it was different here in Park City...but I had come home to the 4th of July and a place that was a white, upper middle class, cushy, comfortable, yoga class-attending "culture." I jumped on the wide-open highway with no cows to maneuver around, no honking filling my ears, and no trash littered along the road. Surrounded by mountains. It was peaceful. Calm. Easy. Yeah, life is so easy here. A complete 180 from India. But what I was experiencing was not culture shock, rather it was non-culture shock. Sure, there's a mountain culture here, but really - there's no real, raw, authentic culture. Come on, this is 'Murica, an amalgam of cultures without any distinct identity.

Culture is the sounds of bells ringing in the streets as men carry the body of a deceased family member - wrapped in silver and gold and finished off with marigolds - to their cremation ceremony on the Mother Ganga. Culture is an 11th generation block printer taking pride in his work and continuing to create the same art his family has created for decades. Culture is the family unit - mother, father, sisters, grandparents - living under one roof and eating breakfast, lunch and dinner together at the table, finishing it off with fresh mangoes for dessert, purchased from the market that day. Culture is custom. It's the sights, sounds and smells that make a place so unique. It's purchasing an offering of marigolds and waiting in line with women adorned in vibrant saris, to bring it to the Durga Mandir Temple and pray to the goddess Durga. Culture is the intermingling smells of saffron, mint, cardamom, sugar cane juice, cinnamon and human feces at the market. Culture is negotiating your way through life in a place that demands cerebral interactions at every juncture of your day - whether it be buying a bundle of lychees at the market or finding a tuk tuk to get you from point A to B. Culture is the Aarti ceremony on the Ganges at sunset in Rishikesh. I can go on, and on, and on. In India, the culture is rich. In Park City, not so much. Don't get me wrong, I love it here. It's just different.

While away, I disconnected from western current events, completely missing anything and everything associated with the 2016 presidential election. Which was, well, quite lovely actually. I didn't know anything about the fact that Donald Trump was running for president and spewing racial slurs about the Latino population (what a douchebag, by the way). But what was most surprising was the shower of rainbows that came on social media one day while I was sitting in Varanasi - the holiest city in India. The U.S. Supreme Court made same-sex marriage legal nationwide?! Where was I? I was floored. Never did I think it would happen that fast. Talk about culture shock...that night I went out with a German dude, Austrian gal and Canadian couple from Québec to celebrate gay marriage. Hilarious.

To answer your question...nope, no culture shock. Non-culture shock, yes. Definitely. But either way, it's good to be back. And yes - I did love India and will venture there again someday...