Wanderlust Wendy

California Dreaming : Culture Shock in America

Recently, I got a big girl job. Last summer, I thought I was on my way to a big girl job, only to realize the banking sector was still in hot waters and I wasn’t lucky enough to get a headcount. Alas, it took a move across the world and a few months of networking, hustling, and some miracle-working later, finally, at nearly 27, I signed my name on a dotted line for that inevitable big-girl job, with pension and all.

My big-girl job brought me to the San Francisco Bay area for the first time. I stayed for a month. I am actually writing from 35,000 feet, on my flight back to Shanghai. After moving around so much, it’s really amazing how quickly I can adapt and become immersed to my surroundings. Shanghai already feels like another life, and now I am going back into it. It’s incredible how quickly one life becomes a dream, while another reality takes hold.

There is always a certain element of a culture shock when I re-enter onto US soil, no matter how many times I do this. My first few days, I was so smitten with the overall friendliness. Sure, some may say that Americans are fake, but you just have no idea how nice it is for someone to always greet you with a “have a great day” and a big smile until that isn’t a given anymore. The fact that most people who greet me do not care how my day goes is so not important.

And then, there is suburbia life. I must admit I had culture shock even when I visited suburbia after being in New York City for a few months. Suburbs, as it turns out, are more or less the same no matter where you go in the United States. Between the shopping malls, giant Targets, and chain restaurants, I could’ve been back in St. Louis for all I know. Luckily, California is filled with mountains. So, as I drive from Target to Trader Joe’s, I was reminded that I indeed was in California.

This brings me to my favorite part of California – the mountains, the trails, the beach, and the oh-my-god-so-fresh air. For someone who’s been living in Shanghai, where I need to check my pollution app on top of my weather app every day, being in California is like hitting the fresh air jackpot. The air is just so clean, all of the time. And if you want super-duper-clean air, then there are trails that are just a short drive from the Target and Trader Joe’s.

You can do your weekly shopping, sip on an iced chai tea latte, go for a hike at a beautiful mountain range, and then have a cocktail and eat crazy fresh sushi all in one afternoon. What a life.

Surprisingly, after a few weeks of this life, I did begin to miss Shanghai. I miss those WTF moments that happen on a daily basis. This happened when I was living in New York as well, but not to as high of a frequency, and I think the severity of WTF moments are higher in Shanghai. In a nutshell, I found life in California, and probably the US in general, too…. easy. Ask me again in 10 years, I will likely think differently.

But for now, I appreciate and recognize the great qualities of American-living, but am further reassured of my decision to uproot to Shanghai. As one moves around the world, that perfect place to live becomes ever more difficult to exist. Is it possible to create a utopian world that encompasses the best parts of all the places I’ve lived? That would be wonderful.

Standford Dish Trail

5 thoughts on “California Dreaming : Culture Shock in America”

  1. Dear Wendy, you have been in several worlds for many years despite your youth! Welcome to the “club” of people who don’t know where home is, and yet are home in so many places.

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