No, I really don’t want or need it: more petite anecdotes about reverse culture shock

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All I needed was some new socks to wear to work. That’s all I was looking for. It took me about 5 to 10 minutes to get in there, find what I was looking for, and to choose according to my needs. It’s not like I was walking around just looking at things even though there were sales and clearance signs blaring in my face. How rude. All I wanted was what I needed. That’s all, but try telling that to the cashier who kept insisting that I sign up for a rewards card (No thank you. I don’t come here often enough.), that I buy extra items that are on sale next to the register (No thank you. I just came here for the socks today), and that credit card that in her mind is the best thing on the planet (Really, no thank you. I don’t need it, and I don’t want it.) Then she made the moment even worse when I told her that I didn’t need a plastic bag for my socks, which I could clearly fit into my purse, and she then proceeded to give me a strange look. Excuse me for being environmentally conscious.

The wave of reverse culture shock comes in spurts, and it always comes from the most unexpected situations and places. This is what I’m discovering during this week as I try to readjust to what is supposed to be my home culture.

Continue reading “No, I really don’t want or need it: more petite anecdotes about reverse culture shock”

Hindsight is 20/20: Your birth certificate

When moving to France, no matter what country you are from or what job you will be working, you will be required to have your birth certificate and not just a copy. You will need an original birth certificate to bring with you to France.

Before, all language assistants, including assistants from English speaking countries, were required to have their birth certificates translated and apostilled, a type of stamp that says that the certificate is officially official, like it’s super official. I’m still not sure that I fully understand what it is, but it’s a pretty important stamp.

However, now, at least American assistants don’t need it apostilled. I’m not sure as to whether or not language assistants from other countries need it apostilled. However, just to make sure, I would double-check this information, because I think it depends on the country you are from. You should be able to get this information from the information packet you were emailed or from the person in charge of your country’s assistants. It is also a wise idea to double check information, even if you are mostly sure.

Continue reading “Hindsight is 20/20: Your birth certificate”

Why I choose to travel

Now that I’ve come back home from my expat adventure in France, I’ve had many moments of reflection. This past year, I’ve done more traveling than I could have ever imagined, and my hunger for travel has only grown because of it.

Because I have traveled so much and because I do consider myself a travel junkie, many people have asked why I love traveling so much. What is about traveling that appeals to me? Why is it something that I constantly crave? I didn’t have the answers until I started to see how different I am because of my experiences living as an expatriate and traveling, and here’s what I have to say.

I choose to travel because 

1. There is something bigger than me out there

I am a Christian. I believe in God, and the more that I travel the more that I see Him and His glory in every corner that I travel. The more that I travel, the closer I feel to Him. The more that I travel, the closer I feel to understanding Him and how He works in our world. I am a firm believer that God created us all equally but differently, without much to go off of about how life works except for the Bible, which is, in my opinion, mostly metaphors and stories that we must interpret to understand. We each have our interpretations and perceptions of the world that is put in front of us. This is how we get culture, and in my opinion, this is a direct result of the variances in the world that God Himself created. I don’t believe He wanted us to all be the same. I think not only did He create all of the differences because of that, but I also believe that our differences are also a reflection on how varied, diverse, powerful, and beautiful He is, the Creator of the Universe. I see Him in mountains. I see Him in oceans. I see Him in French people. I see Him in Americans, and I get a different side of Him every time that I catch a glimpse of a different place, a different culture, or a different person.

2. It keeps the everyday life fresh

I want to see, to taste, to smell, to hear, and to feel as much of this world as possible before I leave it. Life always feels a little fresher after I’ve experienced something new. Throughout my travels I have discovered that I am not the type of traveler who can travel for months on end, without a place to call home, without a place that is ”mine.” There are many people that are like that. I’ve discovered that I’m not one of them. However, experiencing a new place does help keep the everyday things, my home fresh. Every time I’ve come back to my place after having traveled, I felt a sense of warmth and love. Seeing new places not only helps me to appreciate this world but also helps me to appreciate the everyday, little, supposed ”boring” things. It’s hard to not love life when you’ve seen so many beautiful things.

3. It helps me to meet new people

I love meeting new people. I love people. I love the innateness of being human. Humanity is fascinating, and I love being able to experience it in all of its forms. People are the most fascinating creatures. You can love them, hate them, inspire them, be inspired by them, experience joy with them, and nothing is like knowing that you are not the only one struggle with being human. We all struggle with it, no matter what culture we live in, how we live, or where we are from. Knowing that someone so completely different from me has experienced some of the some things that I have, even if it’s been in a slightly different way, is refreshing and encouraging.

4. It makes me a better person

Through traveling, I was constantly reminded of the fact that I am not the only person living in this world, and I am most definitely not the only person affected by my actions. Everything I do affects other people. Though I would’ve considered myself pretty aware of my surroundings before traveling as much as I have so far, I am much much much much more aware of them now. After having lived in France and traveled throughout Europe, I’ve become more environmentally conscious. I’ve become more patient and more polite. I’ve become more likely to pause before I react to things, trying to understand if it’s just them being rude or if it’s really just because they come from a different culture. It’s helped me to become more flexible with my expectations as well. It’s made me want to understand other people before I judge them.

5. It helps me to know myself better

When you travel, you encounter different modes of living. Maybe they eat different food or they eat their food differently. Maybe they communicate differently. Maybe they view the world differently or politics or religion. Being challenged by these differences forces me to think about why I appreciate what I appreciate, why I love what I love, and why I believe what I believe. I’ve defined my beliefs, my values, my morals, my ambitions and my goals in life, and who I am because I’ve experienced things and people that differ from me or from mine. You don’t truly get to know yourself until you are encountered by people or by a culture that greatly differs from you or your own, because if you are constantly surrounded by people or a culture that you know or that are similar, then you are never forced to question yourself or your values and beliefs.

 

 

Though traveling has become a thing that many people aim to do, this is why I choose to travel. I don’t do it just because it’s a thing to do or because other people do it. Travel is a part of me and will always be, and I never hope that changes.

What are the reasons that you choose to travel?

What is this place?: the journey back Stateside

My journey back home to the United States was definitely quite the journey. When I booked my flights home, going back through Iceland turned out to be my best bet in terms of cost. I was able to get all three of my flights for around $550, which is quite cheap considering that I was flying across an ocean.

My journey started at 6:00 am when my co-worker with whom I was staying and one of my friends in Laval sad goodbye to me at the Laval train station and helped me get my two suitcases, my backpack, and my purse, all of which were bulging at the seams (I honestly had no idea how many things I actually bought while I was in France until everything was all packed and I’m pretty sure that all four of my pieces of luggage weighed more than me when combined), onto the first train back home.

My train pulled out at 6:18 am, and I cried, silently of course because I didn’t want to be that weirdo crying on a train at 6:18 am.

I had to make a change in Le Mans, a French city about a 40 minute train ride east of Laval, because unfortunately the one direct train from Laval to the airport would’ve gotten me to the airport only an hour before my flight left. That definitely wasn’t going to happen.

So, I made my change in Le Mans, almost spraining my ankle when getting off the first train because again, all of my luggage weighed more than me. I’m sure I looked quite the scene, this tiny woman lugging around all of this stuff that was much bigger than her.

I had just enough time to find my train platform, and relax for about 10 to 15 minutes before my next train, and then it was time to struggle getting on the train again.

At this point, I just accepted that I was going to look like the world’s biggest fool with all of my luggage.

Thankfully, this train was going straight to the airport, so I took an hour and a half slight nap while enjoying the French countryside for one last time for quite awhile.

Now, even though I accepted that I was going to look like a fool, I did still feel so awkward and like a complete idiot once I got to the airport. Charles de Gaulle Roissy Airport doesn’t really have many elevators. They have more escalators than anything.

Seeming how the train I was on was a double-decker TGV, I’m pretty sure there were at least a hundred people getting off that train at the airport, if not more, and because CDG only has escalators, everyone had to take the escalator one at time filing slowly behind one another.

Now, most people in France, even though they were at the airport and obviously traveling, had one medium or small suitcase with either one backpack/purse, and here I was with my one large suitcase, one small suitcase, one large backpack, and purse, all bulging as previously mentioned. The awkwardness level was tangible. It was so awkward, and I was struggling so immensely, that I almost completely lost it and burst out in laughter. Oh well, c’est la vie when you decide to live/move to another country/back home. Also, escalators and suitcases don’t mix too well, but I definitely managed (not that I really had a choice).

Thankfully I was at the airport well ahead of time, and because I was so exhausted already, I was able to sit for a couple of hours before I could check my bags in. I literally sat for two hours while I people-watched. I had no brain power to read, to write, or to do anything else really.

The airport is one of my favorite places to people watch because you have people from all over running around trying to check in and to catch flights speaking all different languages.

Once I was able to check in my two bulging suitcases, I got through security, and I enjoyed my last baguette sandwich, fresh smoked salmon with tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, and butter,  and a French-style espresso one last time before saying goodbye to my second home. It was quite the moment. That was the most savory baguette sandwich.

My first stop was Iceland, for only an hour and a half. Thankfully I was able to get some sleep on the plane, but I honestly never really sleep well on planes. So, really it was quite meh.

This first flight was my first dose of reverse culture shock. You’re probably wondering how that was possible. I was flying to Iceland from France. Well, my friends, it appears as though many American tourists in France found out about Icelandair’s great deals, just like me. About at least 80% of the people on my first flight were all American and very obviously so. I’d forgotten how loud we Americans can be. I generally consider myself a quiet person, even for an American, but now that I’ve lived in France for 8 months, where they’re just quiet 90% of the time, even in restaurants, I felt overwhelmed with the volume level. Seeming how I was already exhausted and just ready to be home even though I still had hours of travel ahead of me, I literally was becoming angry, even though they weren’t doing anything wrong, even though they weren’t bothering anyone. I was ready to deck someone. My sense of anger worsened when we got to Iceland and had to go through border control (no surprise there), and I’d forgotten that in the States, we are a culture of push. Single-file lines mean nothing to us. I was reacquainted with this quite quickly when going through border control and people were edging closer to me than I was comfortable and kept pushing me forward in the line, even though I clearly couldn’t move forward, even though I clearly was in line. My whole world view started shifting again, and the struggle was literally so real.

This continued even past the border control at the gates themselves. Again, most of the people on my flight to Boston was mostly Americans (no surprise there as we were flying to the United States), but again, I forgot how different Americans are. Thankfully though, I was in the exit aisle (which means lots of space!!!!), and I was sitting next to a lovely Finnish couple. I felt much more relaxed on this flight, thankfully so since it was a 5 and a half hour flight.

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One great thing about my travel home: this beautiful shot of Greenland! Look at all of that snow and ice. 

Once I arrived in Boston, I only had two hours to get across the airport to another terminal. I was a little overwhelmed because since I had booked my last flight separately, I had to pick up my bags, go through border control and customs, check my bags back in, and go back through security. It all worked out though, but the reverse culture shock kept coming. The guard at customs and the security guard both inquired as to how my evening was going. What? That threw me off. Why are you asking me a question not related to my things or me or where I was and why I was there? You are asking me how I am? huh? I forgotten how outwardly friendly Americans are. In France, they are very private, reserved people. At the airport, they only ask you questions when needed. Asking you how you are is just not a thing, and I forgotten that small talk is a thing, a thing that is massively ingrained in our culture. I almost forgot how to manage. I almost forgot to respond without giving them weird looks and feeling violated. In France the idea is ”I don’t know you. You don’t know me. We don’t talk to each other. That’s odd. I will not tell you personal information about myself, especially how I’m doing.” However, here in the States, it’s seen as polite. I’d forgotten. How do I be an American again? 

Another thing that threw me was the fact that everyone was speaking English and not with a European accent. I knew that was correct. I was in the States now, but my brain just couldn’t comprehend what was happening. It didn’t help either that I’d been traveling for 18 hours at this point. So, I kept moving forward all in a daze.

By the time I got to the check-in desk for my last flight home, I learned that my flight had been delayed an hour. Even though that was nice in the fact that I no longer had to rush through security, it did mean that home was an hour more away from me than originally planned. The struggle to stay awake and to be patient was becoming the realest of the real. I just wanted to curl up in a ball and sleep for a whole day.

Once I was through security, I realized that I hadn’t eaten since noon France time, which was 6 am my time here in the States, so I was starving. Again, I was pleasantly acquainted by reverse culture shock again. I ended up paying $9.00 plus tax for a half soggy sandwich. Why is everything so expensive here? Why is there tax? Why is this bread not crunchy on the outside and fluffy on the inside? Better yet, why is this sandwich soggy at all? What is this place? I was a bit overwhelmed. American prices make no sense, and I’m really sad that I can no longer eat baguettes.

When I finally boarded the last flight, I only had two hours and ten minutes between me and home. Thankfully, I was so exhausted that I was able to snooze a bit on the plane. The airport was dead upon arrival, being how it was about 12:15 am, and I balled my eyes out upon seeing my mother, not realizing how much I actually missed her and being completely delirious from exhaustion.

It was a bit of a rough journey, but I made it. I made it home safe and sound after much struggle, but I’m still trying to remember/figure out what this country is all about. France changed me, and I didn’t realize how much until coming back Stateside.