Culture. Shock. In. Staccato.

Feb 11, 1:13p In-N-Out LA


Jet lag.

Culture shock.

Whatever moniker you use to describe the cocktail of experiences that go on when you return from being in a foreign country for any great length of time, well, I’m experiencing it for sure.

Overwhelming. That was the first word that came to mind while the thrill of coming back to American soil was still fresh in my mind on Thursday morning. Why? I went to Chipotle.

At Chipotle, I was presented with options upon options within a loud, concrete environment where music blared and people asked if I wanted chips and salsa at lightening speed. My head spun not only from the fatigue that slowly overtook my brain but also the amount of information being shot through my neurological pathways.

The day I returned home, I remember that I prattled on quite a bit to my friend who picked me up from the airport and fulfilled my first request for Chipotle. On the way back to my apartment, I prattled some more, puzzled by my introvert heart’s immense desire to talk at length because I had been alone for so long without too many opportunities to connect to someone in my own language while also completely stymied in where to begin talking about my nearly 3-week experience away. I was intensely grateful that he had kept up on my blog posts and had experienced his own international journey. His invaluable context paired with the rich familiarity of sound friendship definitely made things much easier.

Upon arrival at home, I looked about with a confused gaze, seeing my apartment with new eyes as I thought to myself, “Oh yeah, this my apartment… Nice.” and reacquainted myself with my home of nearly one year. The rest of the day held errands and the fight to stay awake until a decent PST bedtime. I crossed the finish line around 9:30 pm, grateful I made it that far with only one 20-minute nap to carry me through.

I woke up just before 4 am. I was starving. Well, at least I made it that far! So I made a snack of PB&J and some Simply Orange and had a little bit of cheese to put the salty craving I had at bay. After a wee-hours of the morning quiet time, back to bed I went.

6 a.m. My alarm went off. I heard it alright, but the message didn’t quite make it to the rest of my body.

6:10. 6:20. 6:30

On went the snooze. When I finally dared lift my head, I looked around my room, at the risk of further abusing the phrase, a bit dazed and confused. Again I saw familiar mixed with clutter mixed with some pretty new things I had acquired overseas. Not even 24 hours ago I was on a plane over the ocean before the international date line. I had traveled back in time to reach home, and I feared I left my body behind. Oh. There it was. Still in my bed. Hello there.

I made it to work that day to put in my 4 hours. It was to be a soft start, getting me reacquainted with the idea of the office and watchdogging my inbox. I was welcomed back by colleagues as I gradually over the course of the day encountered one by one, thank Jesus. They asked about my trip, some giving more room and space to talk later than others… At times I was articulate and precise about conveying a fraction of what God did during my time. At others, I dumbly pronounced my trip “cool” and could offer no more an explanation of what was much greater than that weak-sauce response.

(I’m glad there were no meetings. I might have hid under the conference table.)

I went to run errands next. The local TJs was prime on the list. As the “crew mate” checked my 3 groceries, I said a warm “hello” and started to make an effort at conversation, he ignored me. The entire time. I even said goodbye loudly and he didn’t turn his head. What was going on here? This isn’t how it used to be. At least not that I remember.

I later saw some friends at a birthday dealie-o for a fellow friend. They asked about my trip. Again, what do you say? They just really want to know. But then it’s a party and conversations are choppy and it’s hard to really attend to one train of thought for very long. So off you go, hopscotching about from topic to topic, from little group to group, being there with people you enjoy but not fully being there due to circumstances not completely within your control…

How do you TRULY convey what happened especially when you feel so changed by the experience and don’t quite understand it yourself?

I had my first day of digital photography today. I am going to live this class. I am blown away by some of the work I saw after just the first assignment. I indiscriminately grabbed the first 10 images I could find shot at my widest aperture from my trip in order to fulfill the assignment given while I was still away. My work was pedestrian at best by comparison. Not only that some of the questions my fellow students asked… I have been humbled further. A gentle critique by my instructor revealed a technical light-metering weakness that I am now more equipped to correct. I have so much to learn, and I’m excited that I get to.

After class I thought I’d grab another bite of In-N-Out. Being gone so long does make the heart grow even fonder. And again. Overwhelmed. The chaos of this place although it’s very ordered. The noise level. The amount of people conversing and engaging so openly… so loudly.

But what I found today, just as I found at the grocery store yesterday and the day before, it’s hard to really engage strangers here. How is it possible that going to a foreign place made it easier to talk to strangers? How is it that even in a closed country, the most amazing conversations took place? But why is it that as I’m back home, most barely want to say “hello” in return or give you the time of day?

I’ve tried to be the same person that I am over there right here and something is amiss. My context has dramatically changed. And though I was so happy to see home, I’m not quite sure if it’s better yet.

I’m also surprised to find that the lovely diversity I love to see about my home in the States is a mixed blessing as it’s adding to my confusion. I find myself overwhelmed again at the different faces, varied customs, and dissimilar approaches. There’s still that strange unity that does make us American, and yet there’s some weird radar that’s been turned on inside that zeroes into any Chinese or Thai person I see. Immediately a sense of comfort washes over me. I am confused.

I recall having culture shock upon return from my second international experience in Uganda and the UK. Everything felt so fake when I came back, like most places and architecture were trying to echo depths of history and richness of cultures. But this time is probably the worst I’ve experienced.

I just spotted some more people of Chinese descent. Something in my mind is calmed. Weird.

Maybe we were never meant to travel such distances in a matter of hours. I’m not sure my brain can catch up as quickly to all that’s changed in such a short period of time. And there’s still so much I haven’t processed, so much reflection I haven’t done…

Be patient with me, Western world. It’s going to take me a while to adjust.

Though do I really want to?

I am a citizen of Another Land, after all. The City of God. Perhaps I should feel a stranger walking here at “home” too. Maybe if I did, it’d be easier to be who I am called to be without regret, apology, or concern.

Maybe it’d be easier to seek God to burst into my everyday with His power if I didn’t immediately return to schedule, to routine.

Maybe I’d more frequently look for opportunities to tell of His greatness, to share His love.





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