In the words of our program director, culture shock is the expected confrontation with an unfamiliar culture. Reentry shock is the unexpected confrontation with a familiar culture.
Throughout my time in Perú, the effects of culture shock gradually lessened. I found myself more accepting of the culture that I at first found hopelessly inefficient, and I came to really love the spirit, kindness, and welcoming nature of the Peruvian people. Nonetheless, I was excited to return to the United States. During my last weeks, I was counting down the days, excited to see my family and friends, have the comfort of speaking my native language, and blend in, without constantly sticking out as the blonde gringa.
However, my first encounters when I got off the plane in LAX were hostile Immigration and Customs officials. I had to make a connecting domestic flight, and the baggage carousel was taking forever. I found the agents unnecessarily rude and unwilling to put forward any effort to help me. And so it went that, on my first night back in the United States, I felt the effects of reverse culture shock.
I think I had, in a way, glorified my own American culture. But returning to it, I have started to realize that there’s a lot I’ve grown accustomed to, and that I now miss, from Perú. Riding the combis to school and enjoying the humorous banter between the cobrador (the guy who collects my money) and the driver. Feeling pride in contributing to an all-Spanish class discussion in one of my classes. Getting a full 3-course lunch for 8 soles (3 dollars). And above all, the spirit of the Peruvians. They have such vibrant personalities. They are so funny and kind, though they love to tease. They are devoted to their family and hold their friendships in high esteem. And they are always up for a good time.
I think this process of reentry shock, though, is a healthy one. It forces me to reflect on the great aspects of my study abroad experience while “relearning” my own culture with all its great points and downfalls. Recently, a Peruvian friend wrote on my Facebook wall, “Remember, Peru is always your second home.” And that’s true. I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to spend enough time in Perú to really immerse myself and, to some extent, become part of the culture. Now I have two homes.