What is reverse culture shock?
On her flight home after spending a semester abroad in Chile, Lisa Marquez '11 was engaged in conversation with the American woman sitting next to her. When the plane landed, Marquez started to follow the traditional Chilean practice of briefly kissing the woman on each cheek to say goodbye. Then she remembered that she was back in the United States, where such customs no longer apply to her daily life.
"They always kiss each other on the cheek in South America," Marquez says. "I think I kind of confused her." Marquez, like other students who spent a semester studying in a foreign country, claims that she experienced a reverse culture shock upon returning to the United States.
While the language barrier made some aspects of life difficult for Marquez while in Chile, adjusting to using English back in the United States took some time. "I took a literature class over JanPlan [and had] difficulty with sentence structure," Marquez says.
All of the facets of transition have not been as difficult, however. Marquez, a pre-med student, traveled to Chile through a program that focused on health. Now that she is back in the United States she is thankful for her access to adequate medical care.
"There really is such a huge difference," she says. "I got really sick once and we happened to be on this excursion in Peru. I was learning about the hospitals and healthcare systems and I had an awful fever over 104. My [host] family was part indigenous and called the medicine man to the house. He did chants and [gave me] special tea."
Rhiannon Ledwell '11 spent this past fall semester and JanPlan in India. Ledwell, a music major, spent her time abroad studying and playing the sitar, an instrument used in Indian classical music.
Ledwell is amazed at how quiet the United States seems in comparison to Delhi. "[There is a] lack of traffic and music everywhere," she says. "You can always hear [music] wherever you go [in India]. [There are] festivals, wedding parades, marching bands...a lot on the same day. [It's a] very vibrant culture."
Immediately after landing at the airport in New York City, Ledwell noticed a distinct difference in terms of people's behavior.
"Everyone is so friendly [in India]. People [in New York] were not helpful, and all I could think is people [in the United States] are so unfriendly and wrapped up in their own lives," she says.
Returning to Mayflower Hill for the first time in months has sparked a change in Ledwell's attitude and lifestyle. "I feel detached from Colby culture," she says. "I have a new perspective on life."
"I just feel less need to go to all the parties. I've become more independent and self-motivated. Living on your own for five months can do that to you."
In addition to re-adjusting to English, it took time for Ledwell to re-acquaint herself with the simple clothing worn by people in the United States. "Coming back was very strange visually. Everyone here is in black and gray and blue, [and it is] so colorful there."
Cameron Cox '11 studied in China during her fall semester. "I could not get onto Facebook when I was in China and when I came back and used it again...[it] was a strange concept of how people interact and network," she says.
"My grammar pattern has completely changed [since coming back to the United States]. On my program, we had a language pledge and could only speak Chinese the whole time. The only time you were allowed to speak English was [when talking to] friends and family at home." Cox, like many other students at the college, has had to adjust to life back at home.