Monday, January 10, 2011

Culture Shock

I spent most of my 9 hour plane ride from Madrid watching movie after movie, trying not to move and hit the guy next to me. I was surprised at just how small our plane was considering it was an international flight. I was trying to stay awake so that when I got to St. Louis and back to my aunt’s house I would actually want to sleep. Basically, I was trying to trick jet lag. My food on this flight was better than the food they served on the way over. I actually almost everything they gave me, including the little cherry tomato and bocconcini salad that reminded me I had left Italy, possibly forever and that it would be a long time before I had fresh mozzarella again…or pizza…or gelato… The flight was basically laced with thoughts like this. When I arrived to the airport in Philidelphia all I could think was, “Why is everyone so loud? They don’t have to yell.” Really what was happening is that I was understanding everybody again, completely, without having to try or pay attention. Talk about a brain overload. This was culture shock at its worst. The only worse place I could’ve been thrown into straight out the barrel to showcase the over-the-top-ness of the American lifestyle would’ve been a Wal-Mart at Christmas time. I wanted to cry, so I did. Once I got my pack through customs and got back out into the airport I pretty much ran to the bathroom and had a breakdown. I gathered myself and put in my headphones. That way I could at least drain out some of the noise. I decided that after sitting for 9 hours I would like to work out. So I found a fairly empty gate and went to the corner and did not just any workout, but a kickboxing workout. Yep, for anyone going to Las Vegas on the 6:00 flight out of Philly on November 30 who saw some crazy girl air-boxing and sweating up a storm…that was me! My plan was to start speaking Italian if anyone talked to me, forcing them to feel awkward and hopefully to leave me alone. After this I felt a little better, but still kept my head phones on. I walked around and found a nice quiet spot on the floor to call my sister-in-law, leading to yet another breakdown. I have never experienced culture shock quite like this before. And I was feeling so guilty because everyone seemed so happy that was I home, and I just wasn’t happy to be here. I needed to waste time so I found a wine bar and bought my first expensive, marked up to no end, flight of wine. I choose a flight because it had whites from all over the world, including a Spanish and French one. It was tasty and I was calmed down a little, but still pretty much in a dazed and confused state of mind (not because of the alcohol either). I boarded my flight to St. Louis which seemed like nothing compared to the 9hours from Madrid, and the plane was bigger! I made it STL and was on the phone with my dad when I found my Aunt Becky. I’m glad she was the one who gave me my first USA hug. I did feel bad however because I was at her place at the beginning of my funk, so she kind of had to pull information out of me. But at least I could be honest with her, and she understood how I was feeling. We had a great time together regaurdless, and even shared some bottles of Italian wine, one of which was produced in the region where I had worked in Italy. During my first couple of days I got a message from my friend Bob who I picked up twigs with a a resort in Shell Knob, MO:

"Let an old man give you a little tip, YOU now have the 'travel bug' will be with you all the rest of you're life. Even at this early point in you're young life, you have traveled, done, and and seen, more than 90% of the people in America ever will. And, no matter what you tell them, or what pictures you show, ...they don't have a clue. Once you 'start' traveling all over the world, you'll NEVER stop. There are really too many neat things out there to see and do............

Good on ya Rachel, you are not done yet! You really should see Australia and New Zealand - two of my faviorate places. And when you get 3 or 4 Passports, held together with rubber bands, you will know what I'm talking about. Best to ya ........" - Bob

I also had a conversation with my friend Jason, who I met in Tourism classes and has traveled the world, including a trip to Asia that lasted a year:

Rachel: made it home...culture shock, blah...

Jason: I'm really, really sorry to hear you're back home. But welcome =)

Rachel: Thanks, I'm glad that someone understands how I feel!!!

Jason: Yep, I had very mixed feelings after getting back home. After being back a few months now, I'm not mixed at all- I need to get out of here!

It helped to know that other travelers had experienced and felt the way I did. Aunt Becky brought me back to the airport a couple of days later so I could fly to my sister’s and pick of my car. I even cracked a smile when I realized I’d be seeing my sister for the first time in a long time. I was home, and I was beginning to accept that. And best of all, I could FINALLY unpack my backpack.

Since I unpacked my backpack I still haven’t stopped moving. I didn’t even have a plan until just a few days ago, which in real time is about a month and a half after I got back to the US. I’ve been visiting people, working holiday hours, spending holidays with the family, moving family…and finally I have an idea. A sort of idea at least. I will work in order to save money for my next big adventure, planting myself (at least at first) in St. Louis. I hope to be out of the country again by January of 2012. So wish me luck, say a prayer, send some positive thoughts out into the universe, whatever it is you do because I will need all the help I can get.

Until then, Ciao.


  1. well rachel it has been an adventure of your life and back to your other life. dont be bummed travel is in your blood now. Dont stop till you get enough. It has been amazing reading all your stuff and enjoying your trip with you. I miss you at OTC and i am your #1 fan Kelly

  2. Are you back? When can we hang out?
    It has been fun keeping up with you and your travels...