The Inevitable Reality of Post-Trip Depression
I remember the first time I heard about reverse culture shock. I was sitting in one of my seminars at King's College in London called Intercultural Communication. All semester we had discussed culture shock and the discussions paralleled our realities of being international students; how well were we acclimating to a new culture, what were the biggest differences, what parts did we like/dislike? It was the last month of my study abroad program and I walked into my classroom and saw it written on the board: Reverse Culture Shock.
I had spent months preparing for the difficulties of moving to a new place and years daydreaming about it. And now, here I was almost at the end of my stay, being told that the hardest adjustment was actually moving back home! Reverse culture shock is one of the realities of extended travel that no one wants to tell you about. You will have the best time of your life and then it will all come crashing down. Some of the highest highs of your life will be quickly contrasted with some of the lowest lows. And let's be real, it f*cking sucks.
I started googling more about the topic and came across a quote from F. Scott Fitzgeald that many of you probably know and love:
It's a funny thing coming home. Everything looks the same, feels the same, even smells the same. You realize what's changed is you.
But as corny as it sounds, travel does change you. It changes the way you view things; your country, your hometown, even your life choices. And this new perspective can even affect your relationships. You feel like a puzzle piece that doesn't quite fit into the old space you once occupied.
On the plane ride home, you can't help but to reflect on some of your favorite memories. Teaching a group of guys from South America how to play flip cup in the common room of the hostel in Dublin. Buying that cheap bottle of wine and drinking it while laying under the London Eye with your roommates. Getting lost in Barcelona and accidentally stumbling upon the most amazing views of the Mediterranean Sea.
You will go home and you will try to retell these stories to your family and friends - but most of them just won't get it. It feels frustrating, it feels awkward. It's difficult to bottle up all of the emotions you felt while traveling - the feeling of growth, freedom, curiosity - and go back to your ordinary life. The people around you won't care about your experiences as mush as you do, but here's the thing:
Beccause those experiences weren't for them. They were for you. Traveling is inherently selfish. You pack up and you leave everything behind for a time. In the age of social media it is easy to forget how to do things for yourself, how to live in the moment and then let the moment go.
So as much as we want to keep retelling the amazing stories we have, we must also learn to let the moment go.
Even though coming home from a trip is really, really hard, it is worth it. It doesn't matter who listens to your stories, because you will always have them for yourself. As impossible as it may seem at first, you will readjust to your ordinary life. But, you will do it with a refreshed view of the world around you.
I'm here to tell you that yes, it will suck. But buy that plane ticket. Climb that mountain. Eat that escargot. Live in the moment. And then let the moment go, but hold on to the memories, the lessons learned, the fears overcome, and the love shared.