With all these internal musings that I am posting lately, I guess it’s about time to post a wee bit about where I am and what shape life is taking for me at the moment…
I am now living and studying in Auckland, the biggest city in New Zealand. The Auckland area in the North Island of New Zealand is home to 1.3 million-odd people. The population of New Zealand is around 4 million, and only 800,000 live in the South Island, the island I grew up on. So committing to live in a city like this for at least this year is quite a big step.
I am studying towards a Graduate Diploma in Theology (biblical theology) this year at Laidlaw College. I have always been interested in studying at some kind of bible college, with the aim of getting a deeper understanding of this faith/worldview/story that I choose to believe in. We all believe in some kind of story, and we all have faith in some sort of view of the world. Whether that’s the generally undefined status quo of our generation/culture/time in history, or whether it’s something that is in someway seeking to separate itself from the status quo. For me, the story of the Bible, for all its mystery, makes a lot of sense so far. So that’s why I’m here. To see if it continues to make sense even under strong academic scrutiny…
The fact that a long time (long suffering) friend and now girlfriend Haidee is also here, is a rather lovely bonus. Poor girl…kudos to her for putting up with my re-entry lamentations. Haidee has also spent the last almost five years overseas mostly in Japan but also in central Asia, only getting back to New Zealand at the end of December last year. Being the well adjusted and stable being that she is, she is just swinging back into life in New Zealand…
I am living on campus, which means back to the good-old halls of residence. There is a large range of ages represented on campus however, so I am not feeling too out of place. It’s hard work though. Most of my last few blog posts have been, in a large part, influenced by the shock of being thrust into a living situation where I am surrounded 24/7 by people. Meeting people. Talking with people…
Laidlaw student addicted to Ginger Beer and Timtams…not the best recipe for good health
So…a quick update on the action so far.
I flew from Christchurch to Wellington and drove with Haidee up to Auckland in a free rental relocation. If you’re ever in New Zealand, then look into rental relocations (http://www.thrifty.co.nz/index.cfm/1,119,299,0,html). All you pay is the fuel and insurance. And you get the car for about three days (in the case of us driving from Wellington to Auckland). That saves you up to NZ$50 a day (which is about half a Euro at the current exchange rate).
It was a valuable time to catch up with Haidee and see some of the sights of the North Island including the Huka Falls…
In Auckland I have been quite busy with getting my head around the various changes to lifestyle, but we’ve managed to get out and about to explore the surrounding environs a little, including a great day out to Tiritiri Matangi Island (http://www.tiritirimatangi.org.nz/). This is a New Zealand native bird sanctuary in Auckland harbour, and is truely phenomenal. Takahe, pukeko, kokako…the island is alive with beautiful New Zealand native birdsong. To spend a night there and hear the morning chorus would be amazing. Along with new friends Pamela and Mutsumi, we had a great day.
On the same weekend, along with another ten or so fellow students, we went canyoning. With some massive 8m or so jumps, it was an exhilarating day out. Too bad I didn’t have a waterproof enclosure for my camera…
“I just want it all to go away.”
This was a comment I made to my cousin Rach recently, regarding the last 2.5 years of my life.
“I wish there would be key written delete on it for last 30 months.”
This was a comment a fellow long distance cyclist who recently arrived home made to me in an email yesterday.
This made me think two thoughts…
1. At least I’m not the only one who thinks this way.
2. Why do we (some long distance travellers) think this way? Why is there such a strong desire to just ignore and distance ourselves from our experiences?
I think much of this desire to try to block out our experiences is just because we become tired of talking about it. When I tell someone the basic details of what I was up to for the last few years, the usual reaction is “Wow, that is amazing! You are amazing!”.
My inner reaction to the response of those I tell about the journey, is hard to describe. I get an inexplicable uncomfortable feeling.
Tainted with discomfort
Knowing the pain
Knowing the weakness
Inner joy masked incurably with pain
Anyone could do this
Given the time and inclination
I’m not amazing. I am me. I did not travel around the world. I moved one day. And then moved some more the next. Just like you.
Just like you.
It is hard being back in ‘normal’ society. Everyday conversations are menial and uninspiring. Jokes are lost on me. I feel at a loss as to what to say. I don’t know how to make conversation. I miss the excitement of operating in a foriegn language. I feel trapped in this boring language of the West. I miss an environment where everyday conversations are made exciting by the joy of the exchange of a common humanity that bridges culture.
Every fibre of my being is resisting this period of change. Why is change so hard?
Single to two
Isolated to community
One to many
Movement to stillness
Mulit-vistas to mono-colour wallpaper
Multi-ideas to a common idea
Multi-thoughts to a common thought
Multi-culture to a common culture
My advice: Don’t travel.
Life is hard after travel.
Good, I think, but hard.
It is hard when those who you hope will understand cannot understand.
When will I feel comfortable again? I don’t know.
Do I want to feel comfortable? I don’t know.
Until then, in the words of my fellow cycle traveller:
“I am this stranger ‘from the moon’….with too complex view.“
I still feel frustration, disorientation, anxiety, inferiority…
I still feel like a stranger in my own country.
I cry sometimes these days.
I cry because…
I don’t know why I cry.
I’m frustrated because society tells us to be strong.
Like as if being scared and being unsettled and being anxious and feeling inferior is not part of the human existance.
Like as if periods of life like the one I’m in now are to be avoided and pushed aside as quickly as possible.
Rather than be embraced and appreciated and acknowledged.
Welcome to the present-day existance of one traveller who has come home.
It is hard to appear on top of things when I’m not.
Hard to live up to the image that people who meet me have of me when they hear my ‘amazing’ story.
Thankfully I’m not the only one who has returned from overseas who feels like this…even though I do feel like many people do not understand…
Reverse culture shock is what happens when FESs (exchange students) return home. Many times, it’s a surprise to the students that re-entry isn’t seamless. It’s very very important that students, families, and friends realize reverse culture shock is real and serious.
1st few days-You’re happy, busy, it’s great to be home, you’re with friends and family.
2-3 weeks-You miss FESlandia, depressed, have problems sleeping, thinking. You feel alone. “No one understands me” Find other former exchange students to talk with. KEEP BUSY. May be depressed, problems sleeping, thinking. Feel alone like ”No one understands me.” Find other former exchange students to talk with. KEEP BUSY.
1 month-withdraw from friends and family in FESlandia. Won’t return emails, chat, texts, phone calls because it hurts too much. You’ll re-connect. Self preservation, may be unconscious.
3 months-you’ll think you’re fine
6 months-you ARE fine
REMEMBER – IT’S NOT BETTER, NOT WORSE, JUST DIFFERENT
Reverse Culture Shock, Part 1-by the Experts
Stage 1 begins before you leave FESlandia. You begin thinking about re-entry and making your preparations for your return home. You also begin to realize that it’s time to say good-bye to your friends in Feslandia and to the place you’ve come to call home. The hustle and bustle of finals, good-bye parties, and packing can intensify your feelings of sadness and frustration. You already miss the friends you’ve made, and you are reluctant to leave. Or, you may make your last few days fly by so fast that you don’t have time to reflect on your emotions and experiences.
Stage 2 usually begins shortly before departure, and it is characterized by feelings of excitement and anticipation – even euphoria – about returning home. This is very similar to the initial feelings of fascination and excitement you may have when you first entered FESlandia. You may be very happy to see your family and friends again, and they are also happy to see you. The length of this stage varies, and often ends with the realization that most people are not as interested in your experiences in FESlandia as you had hoped. They will politely listen to your stories for a while, but you may find that soon they are ready to move on to the next topic of conversation.
This is often one of the transitions to Stage 3. You may experience feelings of frustration, anger, alienation, loneliness, disorientation, and helplessness and not understand exactly why. You might quickly become irritated or critical of others and of U.S. culture. Depression, feeling like a stranger at home, and the longing to go back abroad are also not uncommon reactions. You may also feel less independent than you were in FESlandia.
Most people are then able to move onto Stage 4, which is a gradual readjustment to life at home. Things will start to seem a little more normal again, and you will probably fall back into some old routines, but things won’t be exactly the same as how you left them. You have most likely developed new attitudes, beliefs, habits, as well as personal and professional goals, and you will see things differently now. The important thing is to try to incorporate the positive aspects of your international experience in FESlandia with the positive aspects of your life at home in your home country.
Or for something more technical: http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/exchange/node/2304