When i got off the bus from Chicago my mom, my aunts, nieces, nephews and even my 88 year old grandmother were waiting for me at the bus station with signs saying “welcome home”. It was more than I had expected, which honestly was nothing. I wasn’t really sure how to react because in the space of a few seconds I went from not having seen my family in years to having them all around me.
My niece Courtney went through a large growth spurt while I was away and looks totally different. My grandmother had a health scare the previous month and I was glad to be able to see her again. My parents seem the same as they ever were.
I’ve been trying to figure out why I didn’t suffer from any reverse culture shock, and I’ve narrowed it down to a few things:
- I’ve gotten used to change. I’ve been moving around so much, have been to so many places, and experienced so many different cultures that coming back to the place I was from was just another change I was able to adapt to.
- My previous stops lessened the impact. Prior to arriving in Wisconsin I spent about two weeks in the US in New York San Diego and Chicago. Prior to that I was in the UK, and the several months before that I was in Europe. That allowed for a much easier transition than if I had flown to the US directly from the Middle East or East Asia.
- The notion of reverse culture shock is seriously over blown. Like riding a bicycle, it isn’t that hard to adjust to something you’ve done before.
As I’ve been in Appleton putting off writing this post, I began to see my hometown with a brand new set of eyes. While this is the city I was born and raised, I haven’t really lived here in over 15 years. This is the longest stretch I’ve spent in the area since I graduated from college.
I was at a restaurant working on my photos with my laptop and the waitress was looking at my photos and asked me what I was doing. I gave her the 10 second version of the story about how I traveled around the world, and she asked me something rather unexpected: “what would you take photos of in Wisconsin?”. I had to think about it for a moment. I know this area like the back of my hand, but unlike anyplace I visit, I had to honestly think about what I would try photograph if I was trying to capture the essence of Wisconsin.
This started the process of trying to look at my hometown in the same way I looked at places around world that I visited. There are a significant number of people who live inside of Angkor in Cambodia. Their home is next to some of the most fantastic ruins in the world. To them it isn’t a big deal. It is something they have seen every day of their life. I began to realize just how exotic the mundane parts of life in Wisconsin would be to people from somewhere else.
My dad and my brother are both big into hunting and fishing. Staple foods at my parents house are venison, walleye, bratwurst and white bass. In August now, it is common to find sweet corn being sold at the side of the road for $3 a dozen. At a gas station near an Indian Casino I purchased a big bag of cheese curds for a similar amount.
These foods were things I never once ate anywhere else in the world. In fact, other than a package of Johnsonville brats I saw in Taipei (because I went out of my way to look for them) I didn’t even see any of those foods anywhere else. In fact, I rarely see these things for sale anywhere in the United States outside of the Upper Midwest. (note: the venison and fish aren’t sold in stores. You have to get that yourself.) The devotion for the Packers is something I have only seen one other place in the world: the devotion New Zealand has for the All Blacks.
I was also reminded of the times I spent in the Pacific describing to the locals, people who have never in the life seen snow, how ice fishing works, or the time I explained to someone in Vietnam the concept of the snowmobile. I jumped at the chance to eat spring rolls in Saigon, and the locals shrugged their shoulders. As Jerry Seinfeld once said, “What do they call Chinese food in China? …Food.”
What I’ve learned from my time back in Wisconsin is that everything is exotic and nothing is exotic. What is normal to one person is bizarre and fantastic to another.
Traveling around the world just helps you realize it.