It’s been almost six months since I’ve been back from my semester abroad in China, and I know I’ve needed to write about my experience of reverse culture shock, but it’s always difficult to write coherent thoughts when a wave of Beijing home-sickness hits you. Even as I’m writing this, I’m checking my WeChat social media app and messaging Esther.
I had heard a lot about reverse culture shock before I went to Beijing, but I did not really know what to expect when I stepped back on to American soil. While I was in China, I found myself talking all about the US, from the guacamole and delicious Mexican food, to my being able to drive a car at 16. I would talk about my family and friends, show them pictures of my newborn cousin, or tell them about how beautiful OU’s campus is. I Skyped my family almost every day, and introduced to them so many Chinese friends with unpronouncable names. But as it became closer to the time for me to come back to the United States, I realized that I would soon be leaving behind my other family, my other home.
It was as if I had was leaving “home” to go back “home home.” Here’s some of the ways how I adjusted, or perhaps, ways “home home” adjusted to a new me.
Capture the memories: When I got home, I was bombarded with people who asked me, “How was China?!” It was hard for me to find the words to encapsulate the most life-changing 6 months of my life. I found that showing them pictures gave them a better idea of what it was really like and reminded me of the small things that I had forgotten about. I started working an online picture book of my travels that I could show people to supplement the stories I told. I was hoping to finish it before school started, but sorting through all the pictures was a pretty gutting emotional process so it took a little longer than I expected. It’s around 50 pages, but still not completed; it’s on my list of things to do over winter break.
Stay in touch with “home”: I have stayed in touch with my Chinese home just the same as I stayed in touch with my US home when I was in China. I Skype Esther and other Taiwanese friends as much as our schedules (and the time zone difference) allow, and check WeChat’s news feed here and there. A couple times, my family secretly videoed me as I conversed with with them in Chinese over Skype cause they couldn’t believe I was speaking Chinese. Sometimes I forget that they can’t understand Chinese!
Speak Chinese: My friends make fun of me when I perk up and start to try to eavesdrop when I happen to hear someone speaking Chinese. When walking down the South Oval, I get really excited when I hear students speaking in Chinese. Sometimes, but not all, I get up the nerve to go over and strike up a conversation with them. OU has a lot of students from Beijing Normal University, so sometimes we reminisce about the campus together. I’m grateful for the sake of maintaining my conversational Chinese to have made quite a few Chinese friends since being back.
Be Chinese: I managed to find a small Chinese market near OU’s campus where I stocked up on latiao (aka spicy strips) and other Chinese goodies. I made all my friends and family try latiao, but hardly anyone liked it. When my brother in law even described it as “a paper towel soaked in oil,” I felt the same way when some of my Chinese friends didn’t like guacamole. I also discovered that my family just couldn’t really understand why I felt the urge to use chopsticks, or why I would start singing in Chinese randomly. A few times this semester I made strange, wanna-be Chinese food and ate it with chopsticks on the days when I felt particularly “homesick.” And other days I just ate my regular American meals with chopsticks, just because. I also have Taiwan on my key chain, and a Gutetama hanging on my rear-view mirror.
I think my family eventually has come to terms with the fact that China is also my home now, because home is where the heart is. I think I too have come to terms with the fact that wherever I am, I’ll be like Gutetama, half-white, half-yellow. Who knows–maybe as I travel more, I’ll get even more colors added to me.