I left Cameroon just a little over a year ago. This year went by in a blur. Swoosh! and it was gone. As I reflect upon this past year, I begin to realize the impact that reverse culture shock had on me. People always say that it’s easier going into a new experience than coming back. I never really had too much difficulty with past international moves, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. And then it hit me. It didn’t take me too long to get over the potato chips incident, or getting used to the luxuries of modern society. Yet the other aspects of reintegration affected me in ways that I didn’t allow myself to recognize.
I hate nothing more than people who make excuses for life, and I was determined not to be one. I thought nothing of jumping right into graduate school one month after my return. After all, many of my peers and those before us took the same path. So off I went again, far away from family and friends. I thought there would be plenty of others at grad school who would understand me. Yet because I didn’t carefully consider the student body, I was left feeling confused alone.
After living in a West African village for two years, it’s hard for me to want to care about theories or get stressed over academic marks. It’s all relative. In the initial months, I couldn’t balance the stress that my peers were experiencing with the thoughts that my village friends would simply be glad to have the basic comforts that we enjoy. And because I had such a terrific time there, I found it extremely difficult to not be able to share my stories and have people who understand around me. I was always fear to be the girl who can’t stop talking about Cameroon. It was frustrating to study development yet feel a major disconnect between the theories I was taught and my own experiences. And to top it off, not having someone to vent to. Although I was studying at a world-class institution, my life felt purposeless during the year.
Since I wasn’t really living around other RPCVs (Returned Peace Corps Volunteers), I then get the feeling that I am the only person who has trouble re-adjusting back to the real world. Everyone else appears to be handling life splendidly, whether it be graduate school or starting new jobs. Every now and again when I do converse with my PC friends, I am reassured that others experience similar feelings, to various degrees. But most of us put on a front and carry on. Sometimes it’s easier to simply pretend it didn’t happen and live like “normal” people.
Even one year later, there are still days when I just can’t be bothered to care about certain things, days when I wonder how I lived without running water for two years, and remembering how glad I was to simply being alive after a crazy taxi ride. Days when I think about the simplicity of life there in Cameroon, I can’t help to wonder what all the fuss is all about in the modern world. Life struggles exist everywhere, but they are absolutely relative.
Coming back from two years of experience like Peace Corps is weird. The process takes time, and it helps to be around others who get it. I am not sure how long it will take, but perhaps it will take a lifetime of struggle to balance between the world that I experienced and the world I live in today. A friend recently said that having multiple life experiences actually complicates our outlook on life. We are left to find a balance between all of our experiences, and that is incredibly confusing and challenging. He was right, yet I would not trade it for anything.