Saturday 26 November 2016

Reverse culture shock

People often talk about reverse culture shock, like it's just another first-world problem. For example:
- Having to leave the house an hour early to get to work on time, and they're *still* running late.
- Experiencing rude customer service at a shop.
- ZOMG beer is so expensive again.
- All I want to talk about is my amazing travels over the past years, and none of my friends really get it.

These certainly can be challenging experiences for a recently-returned expat. But it's not what keeps me up at night.

I'll tell you what does.

When working in a developing country, you become super-aware of all the usual development issues. Whether it's gender inequality, hatred / discrimination against those of a particular cultural identity, access to education, gender-based violence, insufficient rule of law, political corruption, or just an unwillingness to follow due process, you become more finely attuned to the social justice pitfalls of the region.

And there are definitely times when I've thought to myself, "This place is f***ed. I just want to go home."

The problem is - by that stage, I already had a rose-tinted perspective what things were really like back home. Maybe before I left, my immediate social circle was more progressive, or maybe I'd just forgotten. And it's easier to be judgmental when you're an outsider looking in.

But returning home - to "civilisation" when your brain is on development worker mode is a bit like turning the light on when you've got night-vision goggles on. It's overwhelming.

And it's not just neglect or apathy when it comes to social justice matters. People actively fight against what I consider to be progressive social stances. From politicians using refugees and terrorism as a way of dividing communities and scoring political points, to people being openly racist and misogynistic in the streets, and taunting "lefties" to go hide in their "safe spaces", lest they be "triggered". It's getting really nasty, and I don't remember things being this bad when I left? Maybe it was, and I just hadn't noticed. Working and travelling overseas broadens your perspective, but also makes you notice these things more.

Worst of all, it feels like those who aren't perpetrating, are too self-involved in their own lives to worry about what's going on around them. Maybe it's a survival instinct, and they've got enough on their minds, worrying about their careers and mortgages and families and upcoming business meetings. 

I can understand that. I've been lucky, and since returning two months ago, managed to pick up work with some amazing employers, but it's kept me so busy that it's all that I can really focus on right now, along with working out where I'm going to live, and if I need to leave the house an hour early to get to work on time.

But when I look up from my work, and listen to the prevailing discourse, can't help but feel that sense of dread that this country is going to hell in a handbasket, and it's taking us all with it.

So, maybe that's what reverse culture shock is - an inability to manage one's expectations because you've come to see the world more clearly for what it really is.