Well, I’m well in the middle of the next part of my life now. I’m no longer in Egypt, I have little time or support for continued Arabic studies, and I’m still figuring out some of the things I learned from Egypt. So, I’d like to take one last opportunity to tell you about some things I didn’t expect upon returning – reverse culture shock.
For a number of reasons, returning to the States after a four-month departure was easier and without the reverse culture shock that I expected. One large part of the transition was the climate. I left Alexandria in the middle of the season they know as winter, as a proper Northern Hemisphere location, and arrived in the Midwest in the middle of winter. The difference was stark: Alex’s winter is full of windy, thunderless downpours and beautiful skies. Iowa: well, if you don’t love the recreational opportunities snow and cold offer, you’ll not be a fan of proper winter. When the family Libbey/Landgraf arrived back in Chicago, we arrived in the middle of the Christmas Cold Snap – there’s not been the proper amount of winter since. While I physically took about three days to adjust to the weather (I wandered around the 70˚F house in a blanket and extra layers), mentally the difference provided a perfect difference to separate my experiences. Other reasons for the easy switch included the change in stress levels, change in tasks, and human surroundings.
The upshot of all this change is that reverse culture shock didn’t express itself in conscious reactions. Only when I didn’t pay attention to details did I experience reverse culture shock. For example, cocktails (minus alcohol) in Egypt cost about LE 18, and on the flight home cocktails were priced at $6. Not paying attention, my mind logged the difference in price as cheaper…whereas in reality $6 is LE 36 – one rather pricey drink! Other moments included smelling a memory in orange juice (I only recognized this by the tiny jolt of disgust upon tasting the juice), accidentally asking three German couples in a row for directions around the Frankfurt airport, assuming they were American, and being surprised upon finding Président cheese in a supermarket (I saw that brand in the hypermarket in Sporting). I was disappointed when Chicagoans foiled my trust in people, fostered by Egypt: I asked an older couple whose entire behavior, reading material, and linguistic style screamed “Midwestern grandparents” to keep an eye on baggage for a minute only to find them apologetically refusing me. Honestly, the largest “shock” factor has been hygiene-related – the first five days I hesitated just so slightly before brushing my teeth…I took three weeks to adjust to the American way of dealing with toilet paper.
I’m at risk for completely shutting out my Egypt experience from my daily experience…except not really. In free time over Christmas Break, I read G. Willow Wilson’s The Butterfly Mosque, which kind of turned my memories of a colorful and varied experience into a black and white story. In turn, I sneered in one evaluation when asked to describe the overall impact of four months in less than two paragraphs. As a management intern in a central Iowan museum staying with family friends, I’m reveling in an environment of extremely reduced stress. There’s two cats, a dog, and a Norwegian exchange student at the house, plus the family – they’re a great crew. While I’m currently only utilizing the lessons learned from living in a large city, my Egyptian experience is percolating and has ramifications in my future. And, currently, I have three or four outstanding messages from Egyptian friends on my Facebook. 😀
(For what it’s worth, news is filtering down with worrying signals. A $4.5 billion grant from the IMF to Egypt is at risk of falling through. Currency conversion at the beginning of the semester gave me about LE 6.07 for every US dollar. Today, 1/10/2013, $1=LE 6.54. Bassem Youssef, Egypt’s daring satirist, has been charged for making fun of the president – testing the boundaries of freedom of speech. Egypt’s federal path concerns me.)
Knowing my writing style, I’m impressed if you read even most of those posts. I hope I was partially entertaining and somewhat educational. Enjoy life!
Hope you have a great new year!