It’s hard to fathom that only 4 days ago, I was still in Cameroon. Despite how much I am trying to hold onto it, that life is quickly fading away into a surreal dream. I’m saddened and scared by that. Over the two years, that life in village has became my comfort zone, and for some reason, leaving that behind is posing more difficulty than I imagined. Only few days in, I already miss Cameroon, and miss that life that I’ll never get back.
Despite of it all, it’s good to be home and to be pampered by my parents. The pampering is guilt-free since I already have the next step lined up and my parents are happy to spoil me knowing it’s only temporary. I’m experiencing a good deal of reverse culture shock and each moment that it happens, I wish one of my Peace Corps friends were there with me.
The Potato Chips Incident
On my first day back, I visited Target, Walmart and Sam’s Club with my parents. It is no wonder people say the U.S. is the land of excess. I was so overwhelmed by the choices of everything. It doesn’t matter what I want to buy, I have to make a choice. After coming from the world where you take what they have, and often expect to not find what you are looking for, and now having everything and need to constantly make a choice is actually very exhausting.
I wanted potato chips. I stood in front of the isle for 5 minutes, and finally, I walked away without picking anything. It was too much. In Cameroon, the only thing resembling potato chips was Pringles. Stores often don’t have them, and if they do, there are at most two flavors. It was quite a change to stand in front of an isle where you have chips that are baked, regular, wavy, cornchips, and then on top of that, every which flavor imaginable in those forms. oh. my. god.
So far, I find that most things are not difficult to re-adapt. Driving a car again after 27 months was like riding a bike, not too difficult or scary. Having running water is strange, but amazing. I marvel at the fact warm water comes out when I don’t even want it to. I’ve forgotten about a lot of appliances and have been having very pleasant surprises. Microwave and toasters blew my mind today. You put food in a box and let it turn for a few minutes and it’s cooked?! You put bread in two holes and it pops up all nice and toasty? SO COOL! I’m so amazed and I used to use these things regularly. I keep thinking how my friends from village would react if it were them.
Most things make me slightly nervous when I do it again for the first time – driving on the highway, using drive-thru services, visit the shopping mall, getting haircut, etc., but after the first time, I’m usually right back into the groove of things. However, having to make a choice panics me every time. I panicked when I went through the Starbucks drive through and had to pick something in a split second. When I visited Panera for lunch, I really panicked when trying to assemble a you-pick-two meal. I gotta pick two out of three things: soup, salad or sandwich. Once I pick the two, then I had to pick one of each from a list of many. ahhhh…..
Slowly but surely, I’m getting the hang of life in this world again. I’m learning to shower everyday, getting better at making decisions, learning to use new technology (ordered my new macbook & ipod touch yesterday!) and learning to not be so paranoid about my safety and theft. I have an entirely different perspective on life now. And if for nothing else, I’m glad I spent two years in Africa to not take life and all the daily conveniences for granted. Peace Corps really was a life changing experience, in every way.
6 thoughts on “Reverse Culture Shock: America, the Land of Plenty”
Wow, Wendy. How very true. We do live in a land of excess – and sometimes I don't think we appreciate what we have. I'm thinking it should be a requirement that every student should spend two years doing volunteer work before getting on with their lives. Maybe, they would have more appreciation for what they have instead of just wanting more. So very proud of you and consider an honor that I even know you! You are destined for great things! Stodden
You have described exactly how I felt when I returned from Cameroon in 1976. All the STUFF!
Matthew, Marybeth and I were talking about you last night as we heard you were back in town for a short time on ur way to the UK. So I decided to see if I could find ur site, and I have to say, I LOVE IT!!!! Keep up the postings I would love to follow you and you're adventures. Good luck in all your success.