Reverse Culture Shock and the Journey Back Home

Coming back to New York City after my grand Australian journey has affected me in many ways, mainly in the form of reverse culture shock. Reverse culture shock, best described by Dean Foster of DFA Intercultural Global Solutions, is what happens when “returning to a place that one expects to be home but actually is no longer”. The feeling is especially jarring since I proudly proclaimed New York City as my new home after accepting my offer to attend NYU two years ago! 

As I got on my flight, I suppose I embraced the first level of the shock, excitement! I kept thinking about all things in New York City that I’ve missed, including eating my standard bacon and egg sandwich at the bodega near my apartment, or thrifting with my friends in Brooklyn. I was excited to see all of the little markers that signified home for me: my family, my friends, the block festivities the line the streets of Harlem, and even the crazy crowds during NYC midtown rush hour! But then, as the plane pulled into the tarmac and I sat with my cousin in her apartment in Harlem I started to feel the second stage: the loneliness of having such a monumental experience that only I witnessed. My family asked if I wanted any refreshments and upon my request of tea with milk, I noticed their quizzical looks. Even down to the littlest things, I had changed. As I walked the Manhattan streets I started to miss how in Australia the people walked slower, as if enjoying the environment around them. In New York, anything less than running is deemed unacceptable. I craved the beaches that so easily dotted the Sydney coastline, the cheeriness of the people I had met in Australia, and the laid back lifestyle where flip flops and board shorts was the extent of high fashion. 

While in Australia, my Aussie friends were always so curious about life in New York. I educated them on the pure energy the city oozes, the life in one millisecond pace, and the loads of different people living incredibly different lives. I realize, I never told them how tiring it could be at times. While in Sydney, my life was slower paced, and my biggest worry was whether I would purchase strawberries at Paddy’s Market or Wooly’s (Woolworths). Now, as a rising junior studying business, I am back to worrying about jobs, internships, and resumes. 

But even though everything has changed, I find myself trying to reach the final stage of reverse culture shock: integration. My Australia life and my New York life don’t have to be so different. I can drink my tea with milk while gorging on my bacon egg and cheese sandwich. I can smile at kind strangers instead of the gruff New York thank you. Perhaps I still won’t wear flip flops in NYC, because that would be a nightmare, but board shorts and a plain white t-shirt can be my SoHo fashion statement.

What is next for me, you may ask? The next frontier. My web searches have been for internships in California: the booming Silicon Valley, expansive Los Angeles, and the laid-back lifestyle of San Diego. These places are destinations I’ve never been to but nevertheless places that my friends who studied abroad with me said reminded them so much of Australia. Who knows I may yet still find myself back on that plane to Sydney, with my flip flops and board shorts in tow. If there is one thing that Australia taught me, however, it is this; whether I’m in NYC, California, or somewhere else in this huge world, I need to stop, breathe, and appreciate the world around me because after-all, the grass is greener where you water it. 

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