Just recently, I had the opportunity to travel to two very different places in the world. Europe and Africa. I think everyone can guess that there are a lot of differences between those two places alone, but growing up in the United States and having not traveled that much outside of the country before, I never realized truly how different our country is to the rest of the world. And no, it is not just the politics of our country (although everyone seems to have their own opinion on our upcoming election right now).
Coming home to the United States from Africa was the first cultural shock I ever truly experienced. While away in Africa, I had the wonderful opportunity to teach children math and even a bit of English. These children do not have a lot of material items, or even some basic necessities for the matter, yet they are some of the most kind-hearted, friendly kids I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. Your mom (or at least my mom) always says some kids do not have food to eat or water to drink so be appreciative of what you have. This is the first time this ever truly made sense to me, which may be sad, but I got to experience the gratitude they had for what food they were receiving and how much love they gave us just for being there. Coming home, I became surrounded by people who have all that and, I am also guilty of this, not expressing how much gratitude they had for their basic needs being met. It was not until that transition home that I realized how much we can take for granted living in such a well-off country.
The shock was real and even somewhat confusing. It made me check myself and catch myself complaining about what I would definitely call “first world problems.” And let me tell you, those first world problems had never been more real until after I came home from Africa.
Coming home from Europe was a different story. Although the The United States and some parts of Europe are similar, there were still some things I had always heard about and did not notice until coming back to the States. I was able to travel to the beautiful city of Paris, France where they obviously spoke their incredible and challenging language. Although I struggled to understand their language, there were usually always signs with some bit of English on them (at least at the train and subway stations) as well as if there was ever an announcement there was usually an English portion that I could understand. Or they had a separate English menu for those tourists that they love and hate. I have entered their country, so shouldn’t I be the one to have done my research and learned their language? Looking back, I definitely should have and it would have been a huge help in some places, but in all honesty, it was not entirely necessary because most spoke English also as well as had other options for me to read.
When you go to the U.S., it is only one language. Everything is in one language. But we have people traveling to our countries too, and even though most of these people can also speak our language, wouldn’t it be nice for our country to have signed with different languages on them, too? I realize some cities do have this, but where I am from, we really do not have that many options of other languages. And some Americans (myself included) do not speak more than one language.
I realize I kind of bashed on the U.S. for not having these options for other languages, but I am not mad at the U.S., it is just in our culture to only speak English regularly. It was a shock coming home and noticing that if I were French and had trouble speaking English, that I would struggle to travel in our country. It made me realize just how centralized we are as far as languages and communication go. It honestly was weird being able to read everything you saw and understand everything you heard.
Culture shock is a weird experience when you are shocked to be back home. It is weird when your home country is so different from your recent travels and you are shocked by your own culture rather the others you are visiting. Don’t get me wrong, I am a proud American, but there are some things I take for granted everyday living here and that alone is enough cultural shock of home.