Reverse culture shock is like ordering a drink and expecting sprite but instead getting tonic water. This is not entirely true. It can also be like the opposite. Let me explain.
I have been back in the states for two weeks now, driving from DC to Lake Gaston to Richmond to Raleigh to Nashville to Charlottesville, and for some reason it was not until today that I realized where I was. I am not in Europe anymore. The English muffins in the grocery store told me this. But it wasn’t only the muffins. I walked past Dorset granola cereal, the small 24 oz containers of juice, English coffee, and Fuller’s premium ale and they all said the same thing. I have been shopping at Tesco since a year ago – I took my camera for many of the trips. It’s funny that things in a grocery store can make you realize you are not where you were, but they can. It is a lot like seeing your ex-girlfriend’s name on posters or ads or street signs when you’re driving around town. It’s everywhere when you’d rather not think about it at all.
However, reverse culture shock is also a surprise. It’s coming back to a place that is full of more greatness than we know and it gives you new lenses to see what we have and don’t have. In addition to being able to discern the small differences in American accents, you are coming back to a place that has not entirely abandoned the church; a place that says selflessness and courtesy are not lost virtues. This is a place where people don’t just volunteer or support charity to look good, and this is a place where people actually stop to help you out for altruistic reasons. Today I had three teachers that I don’t know go out of their way to help me. One teacher lent me two of the computers from her room and some of her class material, another teacher lent me extension cords, another helped me set up my network and smartboard for an hour. Then another spent time hunting down school supplies. I did not receive this same sort of warm welcome in the UK.
This makes me think big. What is the difference? It’s not to say that there aren’t communities of generosity in the UK (there are) nor is it to say that there aren’t cold places in the states where everyone looks out for number one. But on the scale of countries who practice altruism, it seems that America ranks high. Why?
Thomas Merton has a theory: “The only thing that can save the world from complete moral collapse is a spiritual revolution.”
Is it possible that there are those of us who have been given the ability to set our minds not on the things of this world?
St. Gregory – “All that man pursues in this life has no existence except in his mind, not in reality: opinion, honor, dignities, glory, fortune. All these are the work of this life’s spiders… but those who rise to the heights escape, with the flick of a wing, from the spiders of this world.”