Home for the Holidays with a side of Reverse Culture Shock!

This winter break, I was lucky enough to go home to America for the holidays! :)

I was able to see friends, eat things I was super excited for (Chipotle, American sushi, normal pizza, CHEESE, Polish sausages and cheeses, Polish Christmas dishes, mom’s cooking <3), spend a lot of time with my mom, talk to my family in Poland for the first time since I had left for Japan, and other wonderful things. :)

On the flip side, I had a lot of anxiety around this trip (and nightmares, bleh). I knew that after spending a year and a half in Japan, the first visit back home was going to be intense.  I had heard a lot about the dreaded reverse culture shock, which is the unwanted cousin of the exciting and fresh culture shock that happens when you move somewhere brand new… so I tried to read as many articles as I could before I came home, and while they prepped me for SOME of the surrealness of being home, there were more surprises in store!

I had typed up a really in depth post full of feels a week ago, but alas, technical glitches between my app and my site happened and it disappeared!! D: So here we go, in an attempt to capture some of those first, weird moments of being home.

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Decorating the Christmas tree and seeing old family ornaments was a lovely taste of home. :) <3

Things I expected:

Changing landscapes. It was weird but expected to see new stores and restaurants having popped up and replaced old ones.  There is a new Aldi (why so late!?), a spa (with naked baths!), a bubble tea place, and all other kinds of exciting things that popped up around my neighborhood. The only thing I was really sad about was that Pathmark, our local grocery store, closed down. :(

Friends and family as my anchor. I was really relieved that my family and friends had stayed the same! :) Little things changed, but within the realm of comfort and natural growth. I got to meet some new boyfriends and do a lot of catching up! <3

English! It was great to hear and see English everywhere! I could read signs, ask for help, understand the responses in detail, and fully function as a member of society. It is incredible how strong of an impact understanding the language around you is on your self confidence and self worth. It was like an immediate boost of self esteem!

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Mount Fuji from the sky! :)

Things I did not expect:

English… While hearing English was great, it was also really confusing. It felt like I was in one of those superhero movies where I suddenly acquired the power to read minds – and all of a sudden I could hear all these thoughts and didn’t know how to filter them out.

No jet lag?! Miraculously,  I did not deal with any jet lag during this trip!!  I left Japan at 6 PM Japan time, dozed in and out on the plane, watched some movies, arrived in America at 4:30 PM, got home at 7 PM, hung out with my friend and my mom, went to sleep at 10 PM, woke up at 7 AM the next morning and was ready to go! WHAT?! I don’t know.

Small talk in restaurants. I forgot how chatty waiters and waitresses are in America! It does not seem like Japanese restaurant staff engage in small talk to the degree that American staff members do. They are very polite, courteous, but there seems to be more emotional distance between the servers and the customers in Japan. I found myself at a loss for words in American restaurants, and unsure how to respond, which felt a little freaky.

Paying in restaurants… When it came to paying, I kept looking for the cash register. In Japan, when you are done with your meal, you head to the cash register and you pay for your meal there. Sometimes you get your receipt on the table, but often you just head to the register. I felt kind of strange about just leaving the money on the table the first few times I went out with friends.

Tipping. A year and a half of not worrying about tipping made me pretty annoyed when factoring pricing and budgeting… This is one thing I missed about Japan. Why can’t America pay their servers fairly, or count tip into the food charge automatically everywhere!?

Chapped hands and lips from hell. D: Japan is much more humid year-round than the North Eastern US is… but I did not realize that my body had acclimated to Japan so much that within the first two days back, my hands and lips were parched, red, and stinging. I have not used this much chap stick and lotion in a long time!

Missing Japan so much! This was worse the first few days, but I had some really strong pangs of homesickness for Japan! The strongest was on one of the first nights, when my mom took me grocery shopping with her. We went to  ShopRite, which is a general, run-of-the-mill grocery store.  I don’t know what it was about it, but the atmosphere felt so foreign and uncomfortable for me that I often found myself anxiously holding my breath without even realizing it.   Later that night, we went to H-Mart, which is a Korean grocery chain in our area. I feel weird about it but I felt a huge sense of relief there, and bizarrely enough, hearing Chinese and Korean around me made me feel a lot more comfortable.

How incompetent I felt.  From being unable to count change quickly, to speaking too slowly and gesturing WAY too much, to having to take moments to myself to regroup, that boost of confidence I got from understanding English was punctured by how frustrated I felt with myself. It reminded me of being in Poland, and LOOKING and SPEAKING Polish, but confusing people with my American accent, crazy grammar, and limited vocabulary.  I almost felt like an impostor.  While time did help, I am not looking forward to this happening again the next time I am home. :(

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So basically, I was not ready for most of the things that I experienced, but it’s all good! Will be next time! ;) Hopefully next time I am back, I can look back on this post and mentally prep myself for the weirdness. I am sure everybody experiences culture-shock and stuff like this in different ways, so I am grateful I was able to

Overall, I am really happy I visited home, and really thankful that it was possible.  I was sad to leave America (just as I was sad to leave Japan before my trip home… always emotional about something D:), but it made me a lot more appreciative of what I have here in Japan, as well as what I appreciate about home. I now feel that when I do leave Japan, I will be able to do so with clarity and peace of mind. :)

Agata

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