Reflections on culture shock and the idea of “home.”
Returning from Scotland was really rough. I’m not exaggerating when I say I cried every day for a week. I didn’t want to be miserable, but I was anyway. How could I not be, when the most thrilling, exhilarating, fulfilling experience of my life thus far had come to a screeching halt? My heart and my whole body reacted in the only way it knew how: grief. Culture shock. All I could think about when I would cook my breakfast in the morning was what it was like to cook breakfast in my flat in Glasgow, greeting my beautiful flatmates as they would sleepily walk in one after the other as the morning progressed, chatting away about what we’d done the previous night or our plans for the upcoming day. All I wanted to do was just step outside my door and have my friends be an easy, scenic twenty-minute walk away. But no, I had returned to the land of the Chicago suburbs, where the closest thing to do was a twenty-minute drive away, and even so, I couldn’t find it in me to be interested in doing anything here — I craved only the accents I’d hear on the streets in Glasgow, the hustle-and-bustle, and the general hospitable culture of the Scots.
I was really worried about myself for a while there. Following my return to the States, I had two weeks of just staying at home, often times without a car, too. This in itself was a shock to my system, which had grown so used to the accessibility of activity in Glasgow. Occasionally, I’d see a few of my friends who were (thankfully) in town for the holidays, and to them I’m immensely grateful for their patience, understanding, and support as I processed my departure from Scotland and my return to the States. I’m grateful for the opportunities I had to excitedly talk about all my adventures and all the wonderful friends I’d made, to cook for my friends here the dishes I’d create while living on my own there. But there was a huge part of me that was still so worried for myself. I don’t want to be “that person” who’s so stuck in the past that it’s all I can talk about and think about to the point where I can’t enjoy my present. I was really worried that I’d “return to ‘normal’ life” upon returning to my home college and hate it.
I am so happy that I’ve been proven wrong.
I still absolutely miss Glasgow. I miss the environment so much. It’s still difficult, still surreal, still painful, trying to get used to talking about it in the past tense. I wrote at the end of “Smile Because It Happened” that I’m worried I will no longer be the person who I was when I was in Glasgow. I’m wondering if the fact that I feel less and less heartbreak each day means that I’m finally settling in to my current environment, but I also can’t help but wonder if it’s at the expense of losing who I was in Glasgow.
I thrived on the independence I had in Glasgow — here, I feel like I’m so dependent on my parents for everything. (Don’t get me wrong, I am ultimately so grateful and blessed that I have my parents here to rely on in the first place.) I thrived on just how global Glasgow was — here, I feel suffocated again by the homogeneity of Naperville. Immersed in the unique culture of Glasgow, I felt I could fully be myself and all parts of my cultural identities, triumphant in my independence and self-sufficiency, exceedingly satiated in my thirst for cultural exchange, constantly inspired and always learning more about just how vast our world really is. Though I value it so highly for what it is, I don’t feel like the environment of my home college provides the same satisfaction of being abroad. I don’t say that with resentment towards my home campus or anything. I think it’s just a reasonable observation given the differences between the two environments. And the culture shock associated with returning to this environment which does not inspire me in the same way as the other does is a reasonable reaction, too.
That said, I’m pleasantly surprised that the hole that leaving Glasgow has left doesn’t feel as empty as I was fearing it to be. (I know that that hole can never be filled completely, and I honestly don’t want it to be — I don’t want to force that hole to be filled when my time in Glasgow is so sacred to me. I know I need to leave at least a little bit of room left for that sacrality as opposed to sweeping it all under the rug or burying it hastily in a halfhearted attempt to “move on.”) Even though I know that I have been my best self in Glasgow, I’m happy I’m not spending as much of my time and energy pining away for it as I was worried I’d be. Rather, I am seeing the value in where I am as opposed to only focusing on where I’d like to be. And you know what? There really is so much value here.
In this week of returning to my home campus, I have recognized the value in calling it my home campus. I have been met with the warmest welcomes — enthusiastic hugs, happy screams, fervent “I missed you”s, frantic “OhmygoodnesshowwasSCOTLAND?!”s, and then the most kind, supportive, listening ears to which I could tell my many, many stories. The hugs are my favorite. So are the smiles. I hope I look as blissful as I feel as I run at my friends with open arms. I hope my friends can feel the appreciation and joy I have to be reunited with them. I am blessed to have people in my life who have cared so much about me that they missed me, who are eager to catch up on my life as I am eager to catch up on theirs. I am blessed to have people in my life who make my heart leap with joy when I see their faces.
Home is a place you can feel happy returning to. Home is where the heart is.
So with that said about the idea of “home” and what it’s been like to return to a place that’s brought me happiness, I also know that this is not my only home.
When I video chat with the friends I made last semester, when I get to talk about my experience abroad and describe it in as much detail as I can, there’s another part of me that feels like I’m at home, different than the part of me that feels at home here. On New Year’s Eve, I video chatted with my flatmate Annaliese while we both ate breakfast, and to hear her voice while I ate my toast and drank my tea filled the rest of the hole left by the end of my semester abroad, even if only temporarily. For the short hour we were able to spend together connected from hundreds of miles away, I almost felt transported back to our round table in our cozy little kitchen in Lammermuir Flat K in Murano Street Student Village on a sleepy cloudy morning, and it really did feel like home.
I’m so thankful for technology, because it’s integrated bits and pieces of the home I knew for three and a half months into this home that I’ve known for years. (Of course, measuring time based on quantity feels cheap and superfluous now when I know just how much more meaning the quality of that time has instead.) I have been able to hear the voices of my loved ones from Texas, Chile, Singapore, and Slovenia. I have been able to see their faces, if only on a screen. I carry them with me — literally — as I chat with them over the phone from the comfort of my bedroom, my residence hall, my campus, or even my car. As I go about my day, fulfilling the responsibilities I have in this environment, I listen to the music we’ve shared with each other — I find myself nodding my head along to the reggaeton of Moral Distraida and Nano Stern, and relaxing happily to the soft and sweet sounds of Modrijani and Klapa Šufit. I hear and see these things that created home for me in Glasgow while being present in the home I have here in the States. I am grateful that the two do not have to be mutually exclusive from each other.
I am back at home here among people I am blessed to call family and friends who will welcome this new me with loving, open arms and extend support, understanding, and patience as I wrestle with the culture shock of returning to the States. I am at home on this campus where I have created a space for myself in leadership positions and extracurricular activities. I was at home in Glasgow among people from across the world with their vibrant life stories and diverse cultures. I have also found a home in the parameters of a video call, among those people I am blessed to also call family and friends, even though they are thousands and thousands of miles away. It is this fluidity of the notion of home, if anything, that is easing the culture shock of having left one home to go back to the other.
And I cannot wait for the day I return to my other homes, too.
This is the beautiful tragedy of falling in love with people and places in every single way possible. It fills your heart with happiness, then rips it apart and spreads the pieces all across the world, and nothing can satisfy your craving for those people and those places other than the very people and places themselves. Nothing feels better than when that craving is satisfied, even if you didn’t know you were craving it until you’re face-to-face with it in person after three and a half months or over a video call after three and a half weeks. Home is where the heart is, and though my heart feels called to so many different places now, I wouldn’t want it any other way.