On reverse culture shock, taking things slow, and living authentically.
Let me preface this by saying this journey of self-discovery ain’t for the faint of heart.
Recently I’ve been dealing with the transition of being back in America and all that that entails: re-learning how to communicate with others, tending to my financial and familial obligations, worrying about the status of my future, and of course, formulating opinions about the endless stream of celebrity and pop culture references that tend to come up in everyday polite conversation.
Well I have an Instagram account dedicated to reflecting on some of my favorite travel moments. Someone from the internet recently asked me why I refer to myself as a lowlife. I think I got her general gist. Why would any self-respecting young lady go around degrading herself with such negative talk? Didn’t I have any confidence at all?
Well no, as it turns out. I’ll get to that in a minute.
Part of the struggle of reverse culture shock and repatriation is in realizing that just as my life had continued to progress in the years that I was away, so did the lives of literally everyone else.
Now the last thing I ever want to be is that unbearable college grad who can’t stop talking about that one time they studied abroad in Europe. But of course, I am that unbearable college grad, and travel has held longstanding implications for who I’ve become.
Since graduating from high school and stepping out into the glorious era of making my own choices, more than a third of my life has been lived outside of the U.S. Which means that I spent a significant amount of time coming of age while living abroad, ensconced in other cultures.
Imagine my surprise to find, upon my latest return, that the hyper-critical relative who always has a negative remark about someone’s appearance is now all into positivity and female empowerment. That high levels of confidence and a certain ambivalence towards manipulation are acceptable means of attaining prestige. Or that even some of the most traditional adults go about their homes reciting verbal commands to a secretary who lives in their electronic devices and carries out virtual tasks.
It’s not like I’ve been living under a rock. The rational part of me knows that cultural and personal shifts don’t just happen overnight. But it’s another thing entirely to be watching it play out in double time.
Which brings me back to myself.
In some ways I feel like a performer on a grand stage. I’ve been cast as the spunky female lead in a dramedy about the American way of life, but I can never manage to get the tone just right or deliver my lines correctly. I know that understanding where I fit into all of this is paramount to the success of the next act.
I’m used to imagining myself through the eyes of other people, seeing myself how the audience sees me.
Over the years that audience has changed quite a bit, and I’ve had to tweak my performance accordingly. On some occasions I was the open-minded thinker, always down for a good time and a glass of wine. Or I was the naïve and childlike seeker, deeply invested in my own quest for fulfillment. I’ve also been the resilient one to shock and delight them all with my refusal to accept the role of second-class citizen.
And then I’ve played the lowlife. The one who didn’t come from much, didn’t fit in, and simply did not belong. Needless to say, self-confidence has been like a moving target ever since.
To complicate things even further, I’m a huge introvert, something I’ve ran from and actively tried to bury for years. I mean I can talk at length about just about any subject I’m interested in to just about anyone who will listen, but I do place a high value on my quiet time. In fact, I dream of being in a long-term, committed relationship with my quiet time, riding off into the sunset with it and never looking back.
I can be a walking contradiction and a bit of a hot mess. I’m the one who loves learning about and connecting with other people, but who prefers low-budget solo travel to a matching swimsuit girls’ trip on an island resort. The one who loves to talk but who keeps my phone on Do Not Disturb to stifle the sound of well-meaning friends and loved ones trying to get in contact with me at all hours of the day.
My guilt has been considerable.
If I take a moment to think about it, being concerned with where I fit in the world began long before I ever started traveling. I’ve always walked along one socio-cultural border or another: whether as a poor, inner-city girl living in a rich suburb, or as the talkative but introverted child who turned down trips to the playground in favor of a captivating novel.
Thus with the simple acts of being myself and pursuing my own interests, I’ve managed to highlight just how different (read: bizarre) I am when compared to the people I care about or seek to understand.
I’ve met senior citizens that tell me I have an old soul. Conservative types who think I talk too much. Seasoned professionals say I lack direction. My extroverted peers call me a boring old lady, and according to my social media followers I’m living the dream.
Once again accepting the audience’s version of events, I’ve foolishly fallen into the trap of believing it all.
I know people who don’t wear sleeveless tops because they were teased for being overweight. Or people who’ve become cold and insensitive after years of feeling alone and having to do things with no help from others. A family member once told me that he keeps an assortment of different kinds of shoes for every occasion because he remembers a time when he simply never had enough.
The point is we all have those little life experiences and personality ticks that have stuck with us for better or for worse.
By following that rationale, I realized something that I cannot unrealize: The only way for me to “get over” my low life, is for me to love and accept it in its entirety. That includes my low budget, low moods, and low-key travel vibes.
I may be a talented performer and all, but god am I growing weary. So here’s to loving the lowlife that I have and finding new ways of making it work for me.
My low life is an ever-changing journey. Click here to read about how it’s inspired me to become who I am today.