A Sense of Urgency

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Re-entry to American life has been an interesting experience. At first it was a breeze; much like my short visit home in June. Then as the fresh voices and faces faded back to familiarity, that thing they call “reverse culture shock” began to set in.

It is the shock of my own culture, what it is but which I never realized, that has startled me.

It is the frustrating disappointment in the involuntary lethargy of American life. Millions of minute conveniences fill every gap of motion and exercise we might reap some small benefit from and the food we consume satisfies our desires first and our health somewhere later.


It is the absence of patience and interest that comes with a language barrier, to which I had grown attached. I asked the man at my favorite falafel eatery what country he came from. He looked at me curiously, said “Syria” and then went back to his work.

It is the cursed bless of having everything I desire available whenever and wherever I want it. I stared for a few moments in near disbelief at a rack of candy in the checkout isle at Circuit City. Why is there candy here, I wondered?

It is the shock that I’ve changed in ways I hadn’t noticed and remained in ways I thought I had changed.

It is realizing I had gone a year without subconsciously judging people, not because I was better, but because I didn’t know how. Without out words or culture, I knew little ways to divide. I would get on a bus and from my point of view everyone looked simply German or Hindi and spoke a beautiful language. Here at home, they are dressed well or poor; their speech portrays intelligence or stupidity.

It is realizing my empathy has grown to infiltrate my political and social ideals. I find it more difficult to be entertained by violence or to ignore news stories of international reach. I have lost interest in continuing a life long practice in fighting and self defense.

It is finding my experience with grotesque poverty has not made confronting the bums in Providence any less awkward. Sometimes I give and sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I smile. Sometimes I try not to make eye contact.

It is finding I can talk with strangers more candidly. And it is finding strangers to be less receptive to talking with me candidly.

It is the pleasure to know I can be just as happy in my home town, without the money or the financial status I had before.

It is having crossed twenty five international borders and finding the most difficult border to cross is actually my own. Having my German girlfriend come visit for a day over three months has proven to be incredibly challenging. I suppose she could be a cheap labor risk or a terrorist.

It is the bizarre feeling that I stepped off a moving train, where every day that passes is one more of the cars wheeling by, one more chance to hop back on and keep going, keep traveling, before the last car passes and shrinks, leaving me here to wait. To hope for another train.

5 Thoughts on “A Sense of Urgency”

  1. Suzy Says:

    I know what you mean…

  2. HollaJon Says:

    Hi, I recently came back from a similar (albiet) shorter trip through Eastern and Western Europe. The reverse culture shock definitely hit me when I first got back. All my friends and family felt alien and to be honest, I felt much closer to them on the road than I did when I got back.

    After a few weeks the initial shock will fade but I doubt you’ll ever feel the same about America again!

    Jon @ hollabackpack.com

  3. Suzy Says:

    Where’s the traveling man these days? Your very quiet now!!!

  4. Katie Says:

    John….give me something new to read. Doooo iiiiiittttt.

  5. niccola Says:

    well put, it is initially shocking and does fade but what’s scarier is when you stop noticing and slip back into the American way!! that’s when you know it’s time to wanderlust again!!

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