The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.
– G.K. Chesterton
Now that I have been back in New Hampshire for a little more than three weeks, I feel like I can finally write about my experience of readjusting to the United States. I have heard of reverse culture shock and the effects it has on people who return to their country after a long absence. I find it interesting, though, that I do not feel any major reverse culture shock. You would think that a place as foreign as China would make culture shock and reverse culture shock worse than, say, if one went to England. However, at least in my case, I have slipped in and out of China quite smoothly.
This is not to say that I do not notice differences between China and the US, or sometimes miss China or feel happy about something in the US. I often chat with Chinese students and others at my college about life in Beijing, the places I traveled, and when people ask me to tell them all the best parts about my trip I cannot help but remember fondly those experiences. I would not say I have had any major heartache, though, because I have this strong feeling in my heart that I will definitely return. And this feeling has made me content, as well as allowing me to focus on my current studies back here in America.
If I were to say the thing I miss the most about China, I would tell you that there are many things I miss: affordable travel, the delicious food, the language and classes, the people – I miss them all. I am also happy to be back in the States because now I can always find American foods, like good hamburgers and ice cream (yes, all unhealthy, I know!), and it is always comfortable to use your native tongue. I also enjoy how I am now studying multiple subjects, because in China I studied only Chinese. It feels nice to get a break from intensive language study, and the language study served as a quality break from all these other subjects.
I think the oddest thing now that I am back at my small liberal arts college in rural New Hampshire is just how different life is. Not only is the culture in America a mountain across the valley from Chinese, but living in Beijing, one of the largest cities in the world, and then returning to live in a town with less than 5,000 residents has been a drastic change. In Beijing, I would bike every morning along with countless other itinerants – whether they were driving cars, riding bikes, or taking a taxi or public bus – to Tsinghua University. On my way, I would stop at a food peddler and buy a chicken and egg fried sandwich and stop at a street side vendor who sold milk tea. In the small town of New London, I live off campus and make breakfast every morning, then catch a ride to campus. There are no bikers, there is snow everywhere, and you only see some cars on the road. The way of life is so different that I am actually surprised I have not had more difficultly readjusting than I have.
My semester in Beijing has definitely changed me. I feel confident about living in cities, and I also know that I would love to return to China and continue my study of Chinese language and culture. Studying abroad was definitely a highlight – if not the highlight – of my college experience!