You could tell I was the only one on my flight back to the United States who was not prepared for the winter chill. As we all boarded the airport shuttle, I saw people wearing winter parkas, boots, sweaters, and hats. I then proceeded to look at myself. I was wearing cropped leggings, a t-shirt, and flip-flops. Ha! Can you tell I had just returned from a semester abroad?
The change in climate was definitely my first experience of reverse culture shock. The voice of my host mother came to mind. “Indians would freeze in America; I know I would.” My inability to adjust to the cold climate made me feel more attached to India than I had in a long time. Without even realizing it, my body had adjusted to India’s climate, culture, and customs. For example, I hesitated handing the TSA officer my passport with my left hand because in India I would only use my right hand in social settings, for hygienic purposes.
The biggest reverse culture shock came during the holiday season. For the most part, people in Madurai were happy with what they had. The friends and host families I interacted with did not shop every weekend or buy an unnecessary amount of toys, food, etc. Indians are content. I returned to the United States and found the exact opposite. There were cars lined outside the mall’s parking lots. Cars had to park on the 5th and 6th floor of the parking garage because the lower levels were full. The traffic was insane; it was organized compared to the streets in India, but I could not believe the number of people out shopping. Suddenly I felt like America was materialistic. And we don’t have any shame in denying that we are! I simply wanted to crawl back to India where I was disconnected with certain parts of the world.
When I was India, I wanted to be back in the comfort of my home. Now that I am home, I miss the days when I could not do anything on the Internet because I would use up the monthly data; the days when I would take a 20-cent auto-rickshaw to Naina Sweet and order a plain dosa to eat by the street.
During my semester abroad, I wasn’t all too concerned about the “bigger picture.” I assumed that I would have an epiphany when I returned back to the United States. It may not have been an epiphany, but it did occur to me that living in India had a bigger impact than I thought it would. I felt a greater connection to India only after I returned home.