Bird on a Bare Branch

Attempting to fling a frail song in my little corner of the world

Bright Lights, Big City: Reverse Culture Shock, Part 1 October 20, 2009

Filed under: Culture — Jen @ 3:49 am

All day today I’ve been sorting through boxes in my parents’ garage – stuff that I’d had in storage in Houston for three years.  One of the boxes I found was full of about ten years’ worth of journals.  Who knew I used to journal so much?  I skimmed through a couple and came across this entry from December 19, 2000, written in the airport in Houston on my way back to Michigan for Christmas after three months in a village in Honduras:

“I have a headache from watching people walk by.  Everyone is moving so fast.  And they probably don’t need to get anywhere that fast.  I used to walk fast.  This is the land of cell phones.  Everyone is in their own little world.  All these people together and very little personal interaction.

I almost cried after I ate because I threw part of my pizza away.  It’s fine to tell kids to eat their dinner because of starving children in the world, but I actually know those children.  I remembered sharing my meal at church on Saturday with Doris’ son and Leslie.  And now I threw that pizza away.  At the very least a cat could have eaten it.  So much is wasted here.  It makes me sad.”

I recall flying through Houston again after my year in Honduras was up and being overwhelmed by the amount of electricity used in the airport alone.  Lights and signs everywhere!  We had electricity only six hours a day, from a generator at the mission hospital.  I remember thinking that the electricity in the arrivals hall alone was more than we used in the entire village.

Every time I come back to the States from abroad, different things hit me.  When I was in London a month and a half ago, my friend and I took the train from her parents’ in the countryside where we had spent my first night, into London where she lives.  We arrived in Liverpool Station at 5pm, and I wanted someone to hold my hand to navigate the busy crowd and signs and noise and retail overwhelming me.  Marina knowingly looked at me and said, “You’re experiencing reverse culture shock right now, aren’t you?  I did too when I first got back.  So many people moving so fast, and I wondered how they all knew where they were going!”

Coming to the States I’ve been experiencing different levels of reverse culture shock at different times.  What hit me initially was all the technology.  It’s only been a little over a year since I was last in the States, but since then TV became digital and iPhone added 75,000 apps.  (And apps is a new word my brother had to teach me.)  Not only are TVs digital, but it seems they’re all huge now.  Or, like some friends I stayed with and my parents, the TVs look like computer monitors.  AND I found out you can get caller ID on your TV.  As if caller ID isn’t convenient enough, now you don’t even have to avert your eyes from your favorite TV program or sporting event.  Then there’s the technology that was around before I left or when I’ve been home on holiday before that I’m re-acquainting myself with.  Am I the only one who finds it strange that we can call people and watch TV on our computers, check emails and take pictures on our phones, watch movies and record film on our music-listening devices, and play music in the car simply by telling the stereo what track we want?

But after being in a developing country for nearly two years, I even find it strange that there are machines to wash AND dry clothes, machines to wash dishes, and machines that will suck up dirt off the floor.  We don’t need maids in this country because we have machines to do everything!


One Response to “Bright Lights, Big City: Reverse Culture Shock, Part 1”

  1. chad Says:

    Thanks for posting, Jen. God willing, when you come to our house humble abode, we won’t be checking our caller ids on the TV but the screen is bigger and thinner than ever!

    Seriously, though, whenever I hear my friends in this transition,there is a sort of sadness and gratitude in voices like yours. The passage from Hebrews 11 always comes to mind. We forget that discontentment is part of our faith journey… thanks for sharing. See you soon!

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