Over the last couple of years there has been lots of people writing about how no one talks about how tough it is for travellers to come home and re-integrate, or reverse culture shock. Frankly this is nonsense. People talk about it all the time. Particularly people that have traveled and then start again… and for many they wear it on their sleeves as they continue to wander the planet making it the prime reason for this continued lifestyle. The issue is far more complex than simply not talking about it or the feeling of not belonging. It’s not that I don’t understand or have experienced reverse culture shock.
For those that have experienced the sense of alienation in their childhood home it is certainly disconcerting and it’s often saddening. Even to the point that you feel like you no longer connect.
Having gone through a series of very difficult conversations with friends and family about “coming home” and being “distant” and “uncommunicative”, I feel like the issue isn’t about travellers not talking about being able to reintegrate but that we don’t talk about why and if we want to reintegrate. I feel like all this talk of how people don’t understand you is rather self centred. It’s like saying “did you see the last episode of The Game of Thrones? How could you not? Why don’t you love it?!”. I don’t love it… I have no interest in it… so why expect someone to understand wanderlust? Why expect someone to understand my humanitarian desire to make a contribution in places not my own? By traveling (whether for some reckless abandon, exotic notion that this lifestyle is the only way to live, or passion for a job that requires travel) we remove ourselves from one world and place ourselves in another (not always an easy task). But it’s an active decision. With such a choice why do we then complain that people haven’t made that same choice when they aren’t interested? Why do we not make more effort to understand the more sedentary choices they make (that has merit of it’s own)?
A common theme that I’ve seen is that people experience something “better” when they travel (whether that be material, aesthetic, spiritual, or community). The experience they have at home is one life… the one they experience having traveled (work, study, or protracted pleasure) is something different. The closer that experience is to what they desire as a life more fulfilling the harder it is to return home. So I guess what I’m saying is that it’s more about the strength of relationship that we have with “home” that determines how we manage upon our return. Those that survive best in this life of a traveler are those solidly rooted (either in themselves or in a base community).
I wonder if the sense alienation in our home towns isn’t more a sense of mourning our past and how we fitting back then and why people aren’t keeping up with us. Why would they change at the same pace as you? Do they have to change? Do they have to change in the way we have? Are the changes we’ve experienced always for the better? Frankly, having spoken to some people that travel I think their newfound revelations about the world are rather absurd. That they abstract themselves more and more from the reality of normal day to day life that many choose or may not be able to choose. Not to say that that choice isn’t wrong, but judging others for not understanding is the same as judging others on their choice of political party. Not to say that everyone that travels has an absurd notion of the way in which the world works. It may be more balanced, forthright, accurate, or even right but it’s taken quite the jolt and often involves a considerable amount of shocking and in-your-face experiences with a different reality to get there. Not something that all our friends will have the privilege to experience. Isn’t it something of a duty to provide a more delicate transference of that experience and to communicate that all our actions have a ripple effect that touches us all but with varying degrees of social equity? So rather than give up on our more settled community how can I find the ideas that bridge both worlds that enrich us all.
Of course… not having found my own answers I wouldn’t dare to suggest there is one for everyone else and that this has turned into more of a rant than an insight. So in summary, I wonder if life is about the hope that we’ll find an experience that enriches us that we can use to enrich others in a hope that this provides equity. In the end many of these struggles are first world problems, although I’ve spoken with many people from all over that struggle with returning “home” regardless of the reason for leaving and the distance traveled.
The reality is that, deep down, I will always wonder what the grass looks like around the next blind corner…