The challenge of coming home

Before I went on my exchange abroad, I was prepared by Tilburg University by means of a cross-cultural awareness module. In this module, we were introduced to a phenomenon called ‘culture shock’. A culture shock is commonly described as an experience a person may have when one moves to a cultural environment which is different from one’s own. It can result in personal disorientation a person may feel when experiencing an unfamiliar way abroad (www.wikepedia.org).

A culture shock is often explained through its first four phases:

 

Only honeymoon in Taiwan

In 2015 I went on a half-year exchange to the National Taiwan University in Taipei. I expected Taiwan, being a Chinese-speaking country, to be similar to China in terms of what I had learned back during my cross-cultural awareness class provided by Tilburg University. I was told in China people were chaotic, didn’t que and were rude.

However, Taiwan turned out to be the contrary. People are kind, very patient and happy to meet you. Take the metro system for example. There are lined marked on the floor and passengers patiently await the trains arrival. When it comes, they let fellow passengers disembark before ascending.

My (middle) and my friends at Gongguan night market in Taipei

Another example is the Taiwanese’ kindness and willingness to help. Whenever you looked disorientated for only a minute, you could rest assured a Taiwanese was quick to jump to the rescue. Even if they had no clue how to help you or they didn’t speak any English, they still tried to, even if this led to giving you false directions. After all I did learn something from my cross cultural awareness course: Asian people are very afraid of face loss.

Long story short, I did not go through a culture shock as described above. Indeed, I did go through the Honeymoon phase: my first weeks in Taiwan where amazing. There is the Taipei 101 (the highest building in the world until 2006), mountains everywhere and the beach within an hours’ bus ride. Not to mention the finger-licking street food on every corner.

However, after the Honeymoon phase I certainly did not enter the Rejection or Regression phase. Indeed, there was some adjusting and at times life in Taiwan could be boring. The level of study was much lower, I didn’t have a job back there and no other obligations such as committees or my fraternity. But still, I was loving Taiwan as a country and it felt as if I have never truly left the Honeymoon phase.

 

The challenge of coming home

A lesser known phenomenon exists as the counter part of the culture shock. It is called the reverse culture shock. It is described as the challenges a student or expat may experience when coming home. It too is graphically presented as a U-shape. At first, you are glad to be home and to see your friends, but soon you’ll notice that things have changed (maybe even you yourself have changed) and start to grow more discontent towards your home environment. Eventually, you will go through some sort of recovery phase again and you will be happy forever after (at least I hope).

Although the existence of a reverse culture shock is debated, at least for me there was for sure a challenge in coming home. For starters the amazing and cheap food I had grown accustomed to had vanished. No more Michelin-star dumplings (Din Tai Fung, I love that place), no more night markets and no longer four meals a day (don’t judge me, food was really good and cheap in Taiwan ;)).

On a more serious note, people in the Netherland tend to be a lot more self-centred and egoistic. They are not as helpful as Taiwanese people and always seem to be in a rush. It’s in the small things, like time after time when people try to board a train before other passengers have disembarked. These times I wish I was back in the Taipei Metro system, patiently standing between the white lines on the floor.

Life in Taiwan was much more of a surprise. Around each corner there was another surprise or adventure waiting. So my advice? Don’t be afraid of a culture shock and try to make your entire stay abroad a honeymoon!

 

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