It was the weirdest feeling to step off the airplane into America. I was greeted by the sounds of English, familiar fast food signs, and clean drinking fountains everywhere. I had to keep telling myself that after five months in China, I was finally back home. The culture shock of reentering America hit me all at once. People were in such a hurry to get to their next destination. No one was staring at me. No one was taking pictures of me. I didn’t have to strain my Chinese knowledge because I understood what everyone was saying. But there was a feeling of outsiderness. America was not paused when I left, life went on without me. Teenagers were using slang terms I didn’t know like, “skurt” and “here’s the tea.” There were memes I didn’t know the references to, football games I missed, and it left me uncertain on how I fit in now as an American expat. This is a common reverse culture shock experience for people who spend time in a foreign country and then return to their home country.
Sias provides six paid vacation weeks every Chinese New Year. Back in December, there was always a hum around the foreign teacher dining hall. People were deciding what to do over break. Should they go home? Should they travel to a different country? Should they stay at Sias? People were getting invited to a variety of fun adventures. I really wanted to go with some of my friends on their trips to different countries. Getting another stamp on my passport seemed so exciting! But home and my family kept pulling on me. Homesickness was a daily problem for me, and I kept daydreaming of the food I would eat: French toast, macaroni and cheese, cereal, ice-cold milk, lasagna, and burritos. I knew then that I couldn’t go another five months without seeing my family. It was time to go home.
Seeing the Space Needle again, shopping at Pike’s Place Market, laughing at the tourists standing in line at the original Starbucks, looking at the snowcapped mountains surrounding the city, and gazing at the serene waters of the Puget Sound was more enjoyable than I remembered. When I left America, I was eager to get to my new home in China. I wanted to experience someplace new after living in Seattle my whole life. Coming back made me realize how much I took for granted about my hometown. Each place, each city, has its own history and reasons for why it’s special. I didn’t realize that until I moved.
I don’t regret making the decision to go home for my Chinese New Year break. It was difficult initially to learn how to readjust to the American lifestyle again. My friends back home didn’t understand what it’s like to be an expat and have yourself constantly torn in two, always missing the other place. It was almost overwhelming as well to see how unaware Americans can be of other cultures by the questions I was asked about living in China. That’s why I think it’s so important for more westerners to get out of their safety bubbles and learn what it’s like to live in other countries! Then maybe the western world would become more knowledgeable and accepting of people from different backgrounds.
Seeing my family again was just what I needed. They helped me get through the reverse culture shock and get readjusted to the sixteen-hour time difference. I was able to watch my younger brother compete at swim meets, I celebrated my 21st birthday, I sent in applications to graduate school, I caught up with friends and extended family members, I ate all my favorite foods, I shopped for clothes (China unfortunately has no clothes or shoes that will fit me), and made a list of everything I wanted to take back with me. I knew what I should’ve brought to China the first time, so I made sure to do that this time. I got Magic Erasers, Ecloths, and dusters. I’ve had trouble finding cleaning supplies in China and as I’m sensitive to most cleaning products, bringing some from home would be extremely helpful. I also grabbed macaroni and cheese boxes, microwavable popcorn, hot chocolate packages, Nutella, and gum! I’m excited to go back to China because I know life will be much easier with these familiar items.
I have two homes now. My China home and my American home. I love both of them very much and no matter where I’m living, a piece of me will always be in each place. I love how people can be friends with food vendors and walk everywhere in Xinzheng, my small Chinese town of 800,000 people. I also love how crisp the air is in Seattle and how the mountains, forest, ocean, and city are all rolled into one place in the pacific northwest. Do you have two homes too? Have you ever experienced reverse culture shock? I would love to read your tips on how to reenter your home country; leave them in the comment section below!