As my time in Japan begins to wind down, I am beginning to consider the
prospects of returning to the United States--land of cheap tacos, good TV,
and people that speak English. I am beginning to wonder how the transition
back to my home country will impact me.
The concept of culture shock is somewhat hard to explain unless you have
gone through it. Consequently, it is difficult to tell whether or not you
have truly experienced it. When I came to Japan a little over two months
ago, I had a few days where things felt very different and intimidating to
me. However, that could be said of any adjustment to a new place. Was I
really experiencing culture shock, or was it just the experience of being in
a new city and job?
If I did experience culture shock, it certainly disappeared rapidly. In
talking with Jon Collings (Canadian guy here) I found that the tone of my
diary entries has changed considerably in the last weeks. I see a greater
confidence in the more recent writings, presumably the product of experience
and understanding of Japanese culture. With knowledge of this change in my
perceptions over time, I am beginning to wonder how it will be to come back
to the United States. Will I, in effect, experience culture shock in
The most fundamental question that needs answering is: How have I adapted to
Japan? There are several things I can pinpoint as changes in my everyday
approach to life. On a trivial level, I am now accustomed to seeing cars on
the other side of the road and walking carefully on the narrow sidewalks.
On a deeper level, I am also very used to screening out most of what people
say because I can't understand it. I also have been effectively illiterate
for the past months, wandering blindly through the streets and shops. On
the other hand, I see myself more closely examining signs and other things
because it takes more effort to understand without reading. Context is much
more important to me than ever before.
How this will impact my return to the United States remains to be seen.
Since my ears have been trained to drink in English language, acutely aware
of any speech in my native language, constant exposure to English will
probably be overwhelming for a few days after I get back. On the other
hand, I could be so accustomed to not listening to conversations around me,
that I might find myself missing a lot of what goes on around me.
The initial steps off the plane on the 14th will be telling. How will those
first few moments be? How will I be different? Will I have trouble
adapting to the return? Will it be like arriving in Japan, full of many
small adjustments, or will it be like I never left?
These questions will be answered soon enough, but I am beginning to wonder
if I will experience "reverse culture shock."