reverse culture shock: the elusive “american dream”

Sunday, December 15:  I’ve been home now for almost five months, after having lived abroad for two years in the Sultanate of Oman (a nomad in the land of nizwa) and a year in South Korea (catbird in korea), with a six month return to America in between.  During this resettlement time, I’ve been contending, once again, with reverse culture shock, that uncomfortable and disoriented feeling you get when you don’t quite fit back into your own country after spending an extended amount of time abroad.  I wrote about this when I returned home from Korea in 2011 (six months of reverse culture shock), and then again briefly in August, a month after returning home (feeling reverse culture shock: escaping to blackwater national wildlife refuge on maryland’s eastern shore).

Reverse culture shock is a real and well-documented phenomenon.  People who have never lived abroad, who have remained firmly grounded at home, have a hard time understanding it. I would relate it to the feeling you might have if you died and were able to come back to life after being gone for an extended period.  You would find, I think, that everyone you knew and loved had somehow moved on without you.  The void that you imagined existed in their lives by your absence would have been filled with other people, other activities, other stuff.  All of you that existed would have disappeared into a big black hole, never to surface again.  Maybe, just maybe, given enough time and enough effort, you can pull yourself back out of that black hole and wiggle your way back into people’s lives.  It is said that it takes over a year to do such a thing, and it doesn’t happen easily.

it can be bleak being back home
it can be bleak being back home

I have experienced all of the documented symptoms of reverse culture shock, and then some:

1) You feel disconnected from the people you love because their lives have gone on in the same predictable ways, while meanwhile you have been flitting around the world.  Your family members don’t understand your restlessness and you find yourself becoming frustrated with their firm grounding.  A huge gap exists between you and them.  

The first thing that hit me a month after I returned home was the news that a fellow blogger, Anita Mac, committed suicide after struggling with a broken heart.  Her post, What do you do with a broken heart?, was the last thing she wrote on her blog before she killed herself.  I don’t know the details of her death, and I never knew her personally, but her last post really broke my heart.  The sad thing is, I could identify with everything she wrote in her post.

She wrote: After all, while I am an adventurous wanderer with a thirst to explore, I also have some homebody tendencies.  I love having that home base to come home to with my people, my things and memories.  I love having that partner – you know, the one you can’t wait to share your stories with!  Your victories and your defeats…the shoulder to cry on and the person to share the Sunday paper with (guess who always reads the travel section!!!)

I can understand Anita’s words.  I am adventurous and have undeniable wanderlust, yet I also have some homebody tendencies. My husband Mike, from whom I’ve been separated for almost 7 years now and with whom I’m hoping to reconcile, doesn’t share this wanderlust.  Whether we reconcile or not, we will likely remain friends forever.  But there is no doubt that we are opposites in our personalities.  In our relationship, he is the anchor, and I’m the boomerang that wants to fly off into the world, returning home at my whim.  I have a hard time understanding his tendencies to be settled, and he has a hard time understanding my restlessness.  My relationship with Mike sounds much like Anita’s relationship with her partner, the partner who eventually broke her heart.

At the time Anita wrote her final post, her father was dying of cancer and her partner of six years broke off their relationship.  She wrote: Can a travel writer find the balance between life on the road and a life at home? I am tormented by the situation.  I would not have been able to live with myself if I had denied who I was and my passion for travel.  Life is too short to fake it.  You have to be true to yourself.  But what do you do when you are the one who wants to have a home life and a life on the road….such a conflict.

Anita’s Travel Destination Bucket List was an inspiration to those of us filled with wanderlust.  It breaks my heart that she took her own life.  Yet.  I can understand her feelings perfectly.

I should add that I’m not the kind of person who could or would take my own life, but I DO relate to Anita’s struggles as she shared them in her final post.

gray days
gray days

2) You’re only vaguely interested in catching up with your old friends, and if you do, you feel like you don’t have so much in common with them any more.

I admit I’m guilty of this.  I don’t even know who I feel like hanging out with anymore.  I’m too busy at my job to find time to spend with friends, and frankly, I don’t even know who my friends are anymore.  People I thought were my friends ever since high school have judged me for choosing to live abroad rather than staying home with my family; others have chosen to cut me out of their life and death struggles, despite my efforts to reach out; others have not bothered to contact me at all to welcome me home after two years away.  In return, I haven’t felt like bothering either.  I wonder, What is the point?  If they don’t care enough about me to welcome me back and include me in their lives, why should I bother?  I feel like I need to start anew with people who can understand me, or with people who WANT TO MAKE AN EFFORT to connect with me.

finding the path back home
finding the path back home

3) Nobody cares about your travels, but you’d really love to tell them.

I find many times I’ll say, “When I was in Korea….” or “In Oman…” and people glaze over, totally disinterested.  I find sharing travel stories with like-minded people much more intriguing and fascinating than talking about boring and mundane life in America.  When I mentioned to one long-time friend that I was already bored with my same old routines in America, she said, “That’s life.”  As if I shouldn’t expect anything different.  As if I were foolish to want more.  I couldn’t help but say, “That wasn’t my life for the last 3 years.” Though many parts of my life abroad were also mundane and repetitive, at least I always knew adventure could be found around any corner.

confused and frustrated
confused and frustrated

4) You find it hard to accept some of the ways people do things at home, and you find yourself questioning habits and customs that have been a part of your life for a long time. 

I find myself irritated by America’s consumer culture.  What used to be the start of the Christmas shopping season, Black Friday (after Thanksgiving), is now encroaching on the Thanksgiving holiday itself.  Stores open at 8 pm on Thanksgiving or at midnight on Thanksgiving night, and I have seen newscasts of people actually fighting over products on the floors of Walmart (a place I have never been tempted to shop!).

I get off work at 5:30 pm every weeknight, and what is a 25 minute commute in the morning is an hour-long commute coming home.  Traffic in northern Virginia at rush hour is incredibly frustrating.  I find myself wishing for my half-hour, traffic free commute in Oman.

I used to spend a lot of time running errands, driving on automatic pilot from one end of Fairfax County to the other.  Now I minimize my errands.  I would rather do without more stuff if possible, and simplify my life.

lost
lost

5) You find your home landscape to be dramatically altered.

When I returned home, I found a whole new shopping center, the Mosaic District in Merrifield.  It’s full of healthy eateries such as Mom’s Organic Market, Four Sisters Vietnamese restaurant, and others. It also has an amazing multi-story movie theater that shows both blockbusters and independent and foreign films.  It’s a fantastic addition to the landscape of Fairfax County.

When I got on the highways, I was confused by the new “hot lanes” that have been added.  If you have an E-Z pass transponder, which deducts money from your credit card automatically when you drive through sensors, you can speed past the traffic jams for a fee.

When I went to Reston, I found new shops have been added to Reston Town Center.  Yet the only bookstore in Reston, a Barnes & Noble, has been replaced by a Container Store.  So now, instead of a place to buy books, a place where we can expand our minds, we have a place to buy containers in which to store “stuff,” the stuff Americans buy, buy, buy in this mass consumer culture.  This was one of the most disappointing alterations to my home landscape.

6) You wish you were back on your trip or living abroad, and you spend a lot of time keeping in touch with the people you met during that experience, or looking over your pictures from your travels, or reading your old blogs.  Or simply daydreaming about the parts of the life abroad that brought you immense pleasure. 

I don’t spend a lot of time keeping in touch with people I met during my time abroad, mainly because I don’t have time.  However, I do spend a lot of time daydreaming about parts of my life abroad that brought me great pleasure, especially during my horrendous one hour commute home every night in Virginia.  I most often find myself listening to Tibetan chants in my car, remembering the laid-back vibe, the stunning views of the Himalayas and my peaceful strolls along the lakeside in Pokhara, Nepal.  I listen to Fado and dream about the Moorish and fairy tale castles of Sintra, Portugal.  I think about lovely walks with my embassy friend in Lake Langano, Ethiopia, in the blue light, with pelicans and acacia trees against a backdrop of dramatic skies.  I think about sitting in cafes in Rethymno, Crete, Greece and drinking wine and eating Greek food and feeling infinitely happy.  I dream often of Korea, a place I was happy to leave, and find myself walking through the Boseong tea plantations and Suncheon Bay Ecological Park.  I often think of returning to Korea, as unbelievable as that would have seemed to me in 2011. And in my waking dreams, I’m most often hanging out in Oman with my friend Mario, who I miss beyond anything I can describe.  I miss our wine and cheese, our contagious laughter, and our companionable walks through the ruins and wadis of Oman, snapping photos as if our lives depended on it.

searching for belonging
searching for belonging

7) You encounter people who are possibly intimidated that you have experienced something they haven’t, or maybe they’re just plain irritated that you have done so. Possibly there is jealousy or just plain disinterest by other people.  Whichever the reason, you find people just don’t know how to engage with you anymore. And neither do you know how to engage with them.  Or maybe, just maybe, nobody feels like making the effort because you seem to have become a non-entity to them and them to you. 

Actually, this doesn’t happen at all to me.  That’s because I don’t encounter any of my old friends.  Period.  Oh, except one, my dear friend Jayne in California, who I can only talk to by phone, frequently.  My old “friends” have disappeared into their own lives, as if I never had a part in them.  As if they were never really my friends after all.  As if their friendship was all one big delusion.

8) You find there is no job for you in your home country, or if you are returning to a job you had before, everything has changed.

I found when I returned to Northern Virginia Community College, the entire makeup of the school’s population had changed.  Instead of the mostly Asian students I taught before, now we are overrun by Saudi Arabians and Emiratis.  I don’t know what is happening, but as I left Oman partly to escape the Gulf culture and the immature, unmotivated and entitled students, I am incredibly frustrated.  I spend much of my class time in classroom management, trying to discipline adult students who act like middle schoolers.  If I wanted to teach middle school, I would go work for Fairfax County Schools, where I could make a lot more money and have benefits and paid vacation time.  However, I DON’T want to teach middle school, under any circumstances.  Sadly, that is exactly what I’m doing.

The next bad thing was that the college, due to lack of space, moved all the ESL language courses to a building off campus.  This building has very little office space for teachers.  It is not a college atmosphere at all.  It’s a very depressing place to work.

In addition, I had forgotten how low the pay is.  I make one-third less than what I made in Oman.  Considering that my housing was provided and I didn’t have to pay taxes, the real income was much more in Oman.  Also, this lower pay at the college is for MORE contact hours: where I had 20 contact hours a week in Oman, I have 25 contact hours here.  Because the administration in Oman made up tests and planned the entire semester for us, I NEVER had to take work home with me.  Although my work in Virginia is more challenging, because I plan every lesson myself, and make up every test, it is also extremely time-consuming.  I spend many hours, hours that should be my free time, working.

frustration in the usa
frustration in the u.s.a

9) You find it hard to survive financially in your home country.

I’m constantly amazed at how expensive everything in the USA has become in my absence.  On the measly income I make from my job, I could NOT survive.  I would be living beneath the poverty line.  It’s ridiculous that educators are not valued, that we are taken advantage of so blatantly.  Believe me, this, above all, makes me consider moving abroad again.

10) You often feel depressed and anxious. 

Oh yes.  I feel depressed and anxious almost constantly.  I go to sleep easily every night after reading for about 15 minutes, but at midnight, or at 1:00 or 3:00 a.m., I wake up wondering where I am, and what I’m doing here.  My mind starts racing, bouncing into every dark corner of every conceivable subject.  I toss and turn for hours, thinking surely I will fall asleep again at any moment. I give up on sleep and read Ann Patchett’s This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, and eventually I start to drift off.  I turn off the light and it hits me that I’ll never be the confident writer that Ann Patchett is. Then I start berating myself for my lack of talent, my lack of confidence, my fear of failure.  I’m exhausted in the morning from all the useless activity that’s going on in my mind.

During these dark hours, I think about how unfair it is that I can’t get a job in international development with the obviously useless Master’s degree that I worked so hard to earn.  With all the talk and laws against discrimination by American companies, I believe companies regularly discriminate if you are over a “certain” age.  One of my colleagues said to me, after she and her husband returned home from abroad and searched unsuccessfully for jobs, “At least you have a 5 in front of your age.  Try finding a job when you’re over 60!” I don’t think it makes any difference whether you have a 5 or a 6 in front of your age.  You’re screwed either way.

I think how, if Mike and I divorce, I want to move to Richmond, or even move abroad again. Then, I think, if I do the latter, I’ll lose my connection with my children.  I think: I wish I could get up the nerve to devote everything to writing, and to truly believe in myself, but then I go into self-attack mode, and tell myself I’ll never make any money; I’ll never make a go of it.  I remind myself of positive feedback I got from writing professors and classmates about my writing, even as far back as 2000, before I ever started blogging, and then I tell myself I really have nothing to say.  I want to cry but I can’t.  Sometimes I think I will just get on a plane and drop myself in Nepal or back in Asia.  But how would I live?  Sometimes I think I will drive west in America and land wherever I will land, and just disappear.

What is wrong with me?  Reverse culture shock?  Is that all it is?

Part of my anxiety and confusion has to do with the unresolved issue of my marriage, but it also is related to frustration with my job and all the unknowns about my future.  I’m constantly feeling torn between a pull to a life abroad and life at home.  Oh Anita Mac, how I relate to all the struggles you went through before you took your own life.

how do i find my way back?
how do i find my way back?

____________________________

Silver lining?

I’m trying hard to find the silver lining to being home in the USA. Of course, I have total freedom of speech.  In Oman, I heard of bloggers who were arrested, so I was afraid to totally speak my mind.  I’m happy to be home in the house that I decorated and made cozy.  I’m happy to be with my family, even with the unsettled account of my marriage.  I’m thrilled to experience four seasons and the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.  I’m happy to have a huge choice of movies to watch within 5 minutes of my house, instead of having to drive 1 1/2 hours to Muscat from Nizwa.  I’m happy to be in the midst of my huge book collection, and I’m happy for every minute I can find to read.  I’m happy to find a great variety of wonderful ethnic restaurants on every corner.  I’m happy to explore the beauties of Virginia and the east coast in the few hours of free time that I can carve out.  And I’m happy to know I do have a home to come back to in my country. Many expats living abroad no longer have a place to call home; they are adrift in the huge wild world, with no anchors, no ties.  Though I’m envious of their freedom, I’m also grateful to have this place I can call home.

I found this quote recently which just might help me make it through:

“If I feel depressed I will sing. If I feel sad I will laugh. If I feel ill I will double my labor. If I feel fear I will plunge ahead. If I feel inferior I will wear new garments. If I feel uncertain I will raise my voice. If I feel poverty I will think of wealth to come. If I feel incompetent I will think of past success. If I feel insignificant I will remember my goals. Today I will be the master of my emotions.”  – Og Mandino

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43 thoughts on “reverse culture shock: the elusive “american dream”

  1. Wow, Cathy, you are in the deep pit of reverse culture shock, on top of unresolved issues that were there even when you left for Oman (I think). I can relate to wanting to talk about my travels and other people’s eyes glazing over….there are no common talking points with some people. However, you live in one of the most cosmopolitan areas in the US. There ARE so many people there from other countries and people who have traveled extensively. Look for them, find one or two that you enjoy talking to….You know where and how I live and how hard it is for me to find like-minded people. But I have – because I NEED them for my own sanity.
    Also, and this is my therapist self speaking: can you separate the issues in your life that you can do something about from those that, at least for the moment, you cannot do anything about? Set yourself some New Year’s resolutions re: those things you can change, break them down into manageable steps and timeframes within which each step gets resolved. And don’t give up hope – things are always changing, tomorrow you could find that one person or connection that can change everything. Tonight, you could have the insight and absolute knowing about your next step….journal, meditate, go for walks, find a way to bear the frustrations without resisting them too much (resistance gives more power to what you are disliking).
    Enjoy Christmas in all its manifestations. And the solstice is upon us…the light WILL return. Much love, Annette

    1. Annette, thank you so much for your kind and thoughtful words and for your phone call yesterday. I finally entered all my grades this morning, and just a few minutes ago, I found out that my son Adam will be home in about 4 hours! We’ve missed him since the end of September.

      Now that work is over for now and I can breathe again, I will take your advice and try to sort out what I can do something about and what I can’t. I need to take some time to just be, and to write. I need to try to enjoy the holiday season without being overwhelmed by it. It means a lot to me that you gave so much thought and care to respond to my dilemma and my struggles. It’s so nice to know there are people who do care. I’m disappointed in the friends who have let me down, but I need to carve out time to find some new friends who share my interests. I liked your advice about broaching with Mike the idea of giving me time to find myself and to write for a time. I’ll let you know what finally happens. Peace and love to you, and have a wonderful holiday and a fun open house!! 🙂 xxx

      1. Cathy – I can’t help but be impressed with the caring responses you received. Eight out of 21 bloggers (who “liked” your post) took the time to express their concern and offer empathy and suggestions. That’s about a 35 percent response rate. I can’t help but think this is your on-line “sisterhood” and friendship circle. We may be spread out all over the world but we can still be there for each other.

      2. Annette, I’m very humbled and blessed to have so many kind blogging friends who have commented and offered comfort, encouragement and support. It’s true; I do think we do have a sisterhood of bloggers who do support each other. It means a great deal to me. Sometimes, when I’m tempted to take a break from blogging, I wonder how I would survive without the community we share. Thanks for your support and encouragement. I hope you’re remaining calm in preparing for your party. 🙂 xxx

  2. That’s a wise friend you have there in Annette, Cathy. You had my heart in my mouth, worrying that you might consider doing “something foolish”. Anita Mac was a huge shock. While I do see the similarities, I can also see some differences. Mike has never pretended to go along with your travels then suddenly dropped you when you were at a low ebb. You are well aware of your differences, as I am with my Michael. The tussle is which counts for more and how well you can balance the situation. You have a lot more gumption than me and tried to make your dream a reality. That can still happen. If only your work situation wasn’t so dire, things really wouldn’t seem so gray.
    I don’t have any answers for you, Cathy. Wish I did. But the route of pitching to magazines/websites seemed a good idea. It gives you some hope while you’re stuck in the daily grind. I have friends I’ve had all my life that I can’t really talk to, and don’t understand me. What can I say? It’s probably me out of step. Sending you a big hug, Cathy. Make this Christmas a good one, and then start again 🙂

    1. Thanks so much, Jo. Don’t worry about me doing anything foolish; I’m just really feeling low right now and wondering how I will get out of this funk. Everyone has written some very caring words here, and I really appreciate them so much. Sorry I haven’t responded before now, but I had to work on finalizing grades all day yesterday and then going in to enter grades today. I just got home and am so exhausted from working much of the weekend on this.

      My work situation is the worst. Being at home with family is fine; I just wish Mike and I would resolve things one way or the other. However, I am still happy to be here and not away for another holiday. The worst thing is that even with the break, I now make so little money that it will be a stretch for me to take my trip to California. I’ll go anyway, but I will have to watch my pennies. Unlike my job in Oman, which gave me enough money to spare.

      I wish I had some answers for me too, Jo, and if I can’t figure them out myself, I certainly don’t expect anyone else to. But I’m glad I have friends like you to cheer me on. Now that I’m off for the semester, I hope to pitch some travel articles and work on my novel, which I never finished in November, though I did make some progress. I will also need to get busy applying for jobs again. Back to the drawing board.

      I know I’m not Anita, but I still do understand her feelings totally, as I feel abandoned by my old friends, people I thought would be in my life forever. I guess there really is no forever where relationships are concerned.

      I wish I had a sister of the soul here in Virginia. My friend Jayne is one, but as she lives in California, it’s a little hard to get together and have a glass of wine! Oh well, I’m reducing my class schedule next semester, if I don’t find a new job, so hopefully I’ll have time to forge some new connections.

      Take care my friend, and don’t worry about me. I’ll survive; I always have. It’s just a bit of a dark time for me right now. 🙂 Hugs xxx

  3. It must be a terrible dilemma – the not knowing for sure what it is you want, where you want to be. I don’t think it unusual that you find your friends have moved on without you – life does go on, and it requires work to maintain relationships. Sadly, in our working years, we are often so busy things like time with friends goes by the wayside. I don’t think that negates the value of those friendships, however – there is a time and place for everything, and everything and every relationship is part of each of us. They are building blocks, really. Sometimes we have to move on, together or alone. I wish you luck in your search.

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    1. Thanks so much for your caring words, Carol. It’s really weird for the person who left the country. In my case, I just think things should be right where we left off; however, the people who stayed behind have moved on while I was away. I can’t dwell on it too much or it’ll make me incredibly sad, but I just need to find time for myself, to make new friends and carve out a new and different life for myself. I can’t do it as long as I continue in my job, so I need to figure out something else; I need a job that doesn’t impinge upon my valuable free time. 🙂 Hugs to you and happy holidays. 🙂

  4. Painful reading. I think Annette has said much of what I would say to you. When my life was in turmoil (for very different reasons) I learned the serenity prayer, though I am not religious, it helped me to separate the issues in my life that were causing me distress.

    God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

    Once I had accepted that I could not prevent my husband from the bottle, I was able to concentrate on what I could do. It was not easy, but it helped me to turn my life around. Your sons are old enough now to lead their own lives, your daughter is obviously happy in her life – I think you should concentrate on your life – what makes you content? It doesn’t sound as though a materialistic consumer-driven USA will, but maybe there is a corner where you can find the peace you are seeking? Have you considered visiting an Ashram? Volunteering in India or Africa teaching children or adults?
    http://www.thebookbus.org/help_as_a_volunteer.htm

    Don’t give up hope – don’t be so hard on yourself, and for goodness sake don’t compare yourself to Anita. You are not her no matter how similar you feel you are. You are you. You just have to find a way forward.
    Take care,
    Jude xx

    1. Hi Jude, Thanks so much for your kind and caring words. I love the serenity prayer; it really does help one to sort out worries, a kind of triage system. Right now, I am truly stuck as I’m waiting for Mike to decide whether we can reconcile or not. It could be a long process because a lot has changed in almost 7 years. I don’t really want to go anywhere at this point, but that doesn’t stop my desire to travel and to have adventure. It doesn’t help that I hate northern Virginia, but I’ll have to be here until we get our marriage sorted. I’ll have to figure it all out, and we will do so eventually, and one day I’ll look back at it all and wonder why I was so anxious and worried. Volunteering abroad might be an option, and a very attractive one, if I didn’t need the money.

      I didn’t mean to compare myself to Anita, but I do believe that I really do understand her dilemma and her struggle. Thanks so much for all you wonderful words. Hugs xxx

      1. Thanks for the reply Cathy, I have to admit you had me a little worried there. I can’t help thinking that you shouldn’t be waiting for Mike to make the decision for you, but I’m not you and you have to do what you feel is right. After seven years maybe it is time for both of you to move on.

        I realise you need the income, but I thought maybe a few weeks volunteering might give you the breathing space you need and also give you the adventure you crave – the Book Bus doesn’t look too expensive and you could do it during the college holidays as a sort of holiday with a purpose. I know of other teachers who have done this and they find it very rewarding. How’s your Spanish?

        You know where I am if you need me.
        xx

      2. Thanks again, Jude and while you may be right about Mike, I always have to remember that I’m the one who left him and caused him a lot of heartbreak, so it will take a while before he can trust me again, especially as he thought we were finished. I decided I wanted to reconcile, and I still do, but he had moved to a different place. So I have to be patient, at least for a time. We’re not used to being around each other, so it will be a slow process. Maybe we will decide to move on, but it still needs time at this point, and I’m trying not to rush him at this time. It’s just a little unsettling not knowing the direction my life will take. Either way, I’ll handle it.

        The thing that hurts most are the friends who I feel have deserted me.

        Anyway, as far as a vacation, I’m off as of this afternoon until January 21. Unless I find a way to avoid going back to work! I’ve already bought a ticket to California for 10 days. That will be the perfect break, as I’ll see my sister and my closest friend. Thanks so much for your kind words. Don’t worry about me; I’m in a funk now, but I’m a survivor and I know I’ll get through. xxx

      3. Have a good relaxing break. Don’t rush to blog, we can wait for the lovely photos 🙂
        Just take care of yourself. Things will work out one way or another.
        XX

  5. Oh Cathy, I feel for you. I can’t offer you any better advice than you have already received. All I can say is have faith in yourself. Write. For yourself. To pass the time. About your pain. You might surprise yourself by how much you have to say. Keeping you in my thoughts Cathy. Stay strong. Love and hugs 🙂

    1. Thanks so much, Madhu, for your heartfelt words. Though it’s nice that people have advice for me, and I do take it all in, it’s not necessary. It’s just nice to know there are people who care enough to listen. I’m going to be making a lot more time to write, because it’s my dream. It’s what I really want to do. I really do need to stop questioning whether I’m good enough and just do it. Love and hugs to you. xxx

  6. Hang on in there honey. It sounds really strange and tough but you will find your space again and those old friends don’t deserve you at all, they’ve lost out big time with their narrow attitudes.

    1. Thanks so much, Gilly. It’s funny, my blogging friends are better friends to me right now than people I’ve known almost my whole life. I guess it’s time to move on. I really appreciate your caring words. Happy holidays! 🙂 xxx

  7. Reading these responses to your post tells me that you do have friends and they are all listening and wanting to help. I think all of their advice is perfect. I also think that this is a “one step at a time” situation. If you feel that your old friends aren’t right for you, find some new ones. I bet there is a writing group close by that you could join, or a photography group or even a travel group. Your children are all adults, so it’s time for you to consider yourself first, and the internet is a wonderful thing. You can keep in touch constantly wherever you are in the world. I know all this is easier for me to say than for you to put into practice, but one small change may make all the difference. And most importantly, listen to your travel writing course over and over, and start pitching. Good luck and best wishes. Carol

    1. Thanks, Carol, I really do appreciate these kind words from dear friends. It means so much to me to have all of you take the time to write some encouraging thoughts.

      I do think it’s just a one step at a time process. I have to remind myself this is not something I’m going through alone, but it’s something everyone who lives abroad for extended periods goes through. I just need to find where I belong right now. I haven’t found it in the last 5 months, but if I can get some relief from my job, I should be able to make time to meet new people.

      I hope to start pitching something by this week. I know I have to do something related to travel and writing and photography. I just need time to let it gel and to figure it all out. Thanks for your caring words! 🙂

  8. oh Cathy, you illustrate reverse culture shock so well for us, your readers, yet we all would offer comfort and reassurance during this troubled and confusing experience … travel changes us, opens our eyes and minds, so we travellers do seem threatening to others who are not interested in anything ‘foreign’ … yet our travel adventures also enrich us with strengths and confidence simply by our survival and success at mastering other cultural settings … I pray you find those strengths and insights rising to bolster you through the confusion and loneliness currently hiding your path ahead … remember everything is perfect just as it is, even if we cannot see how that can be … you may be part of a reawakening of simple non-consumer values in your country of birth … who knows? hugs and blessings, Christine xx

    1. Thanks for your kind words Christine, and I do agree that travel changes us, opens our minds, and makes us itch for more. I love the confidence living abroad gave me; I know I don’t have to fear being alone. I know I can find my way in a strange world, because I did it. I need to remember the lessons I learned in travel, and then live them, and share them.

      I like your comment that everything is perfect just as it is, even if we can’t see how it can be. Those words really calm me down. I think I need to make time for prayer and meditation. Thanks so much, Christine, for taking the time to write these heartfelt words. xxx

      1. Cathy, such a loving reply … I too love to remember that things are meant to be the way they are … it stops me struggling and helps me to ‘see’ differently 🙂 …..since reading your words yesterday I have come across two great anti-consumer stories and wanted to share them with you … maybe for a smile! one is on Daily Good http://www.dailygood.org/story/621/material-world-a-portrait-of-the-world-s-possessions-maria-popova/ and the other is about a NY group of singers, The Church of Stop Shopping … see here http://revbilly.com/about-us or even better here http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/nov/25/reverend-billy-jpmorgan-chase-toad-protest-talen

      2. Thanks so much, Christine, for sharing these articles. I especially love the one from the Daily Good. I used to be caught up in America’s consumerism, but since I’ve been away three years, I no longer have any interest in shopping. We’re planning a very simple Christmas. I plan to just enjoy the spirit of the holiday.

        Happy holidays to you! Hugs xxx

    1. Hi Holistic Wayfarer, and thanks for visiting. Well, if you had asked me if I liked Korea at the end of February 2011, I would have said a resounding no. However, after having spent two years in Oman, and now being back in the USA, I find myself remembering my happy memories in Korea and wishing to explore more of the country. You’re right that it’s a very insular culture, but I did have some amazing Korean friends who I now miss dearly. Yes, at this point, if it weren’t for family obligations, I would consider going back. 🙂

      1. Wow, that is a long story, Holistic Wayfarer. You might want to read some of my blog about my one year in Korea. Then you will get the full picture of MY experience, which of course is different from everyone else’s experience. What I miss: getting on a bus and going off to explore: Gatbawi, Suncheon Ecological Bay, Boseon Tea Plantations, Geoje-do, Seoul, Gyeongju, Jeonju. I miss my friends Kim Dong Hee and Julie Moon. I think about my time there often. 🙂 http://www.catbirdinkorea.wordpress.com

      2. Wanted to let you know I was enjoying your Korea posts but the site kept freezing. When I come across blogs with a load of photos, my computer will freeze. I attempted to read more three times. The red foliage is beyond stunning. I would be curious for your input in my recent Santa..Racist post. I mention Korea. You’ve enjoyed quite a journey. Thanks for acquainting me with a place I should know better.

      3. Oh dear, I’m sorry about the site freezing up on you. I wonder if it would help if you tried a different browser. I actually have trouble with this blog (Able theme) because the theme has such big pictures; it does seem to take a while to load. I’m considering changing the theme because of that.

        I’ll definitely check out your Santa…Racist post. I’ll hop right over there now. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  9. Every time I hear about Anita’s death, it hits me with a kind of shock all over again. I’m sorry you’re struggling so much with being back in the U.S. I was thinking as I read about some of the things your are experiencing that I have similar experiences just from moving all over the place throughout my life. It wasn’t until we moved to Ohio that we stayed put for a very long time. Prior to that, we moved around quite a bit. Friends sort of fade away, mostly because I get tired of making the effort when it seems they don’t have time to do the same. Not all, mind you. There are a few core friends, those who I might see or talk with only once or twice a year, but we pick up as if we talk every day. Life was simpler, too, when we moved a lot. Fewer possessions, and certainly less desire to possess material things.

    I love to travel (well, not the actual travel part, but visiting and exploring new places), but I’ve found that I can also have adventures close to home. Sometimes I do envy those who can afford (financially, emotionally, socially) to travel regularly. Or those who decide to sell everything, pack up, and move to another country. Which reminds me — Are you familiar with Kathy at http://reinventingtheeventhorizon.wordpress.com/? Kathy and her partner, Sara, recently moved to Ecuador in order to “live what they value.”

    Your snow pictures are beautiful. 🙂

    1. Thanks so much for your kind words and understanding, Robin. I’m trying hard to find adventures close to home, now that I’m here to stay for awhile. I’m not one who can sit at home all the time, watching the world through a television set!

      I can certainly understand how moving around all the time would give you that same feeling that reverse culture shock does. I think Mike is so settled because he was an Army brat and never stayed anywhere in one place for long when he was a kid. I was just the opposite; I was always in the same old place, so I have wanderlust!

      I just checked out Kathy’s blog and have followed her. Doing what either she or Sara are doing would be my dream: writing and photography (if it were self-supportive) or aid work (which is what my Master’s would enable me to do if anyone would give me the chance). I don’t want to continue teaching so that doesn’t give me the option of living abroad any more.

      Thanks for sharing. Yes, reinventing my life; that’s what I want to do! 🙂

  10. Oh Cathy, I just now had a chance to catch up on your writing, the news about Anita has just floored me, I had no idea. I want to give you a big virtual hug and tell you you’re not alone, so very many of your observations resonate deeply with me. Sending you love and light and triumph over adversity for 2014. xxx Ailsa

    1. I know, Ailsa, it was really horrible about Anita. Thanks so much for your virtual hug, and for your “love, light and triumph over adversity” wishes. Same right back to you, fellow traveler! 🙂

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