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Reverse Culture Shock

(Excerpt from “I’m from...Earth?”)

“I locked the public bathroom stall door behind me in the Seattle International Airport, sat down, and began to silently scream and cry. You know that screaming you can do when you just have to let things out but don’t want anyone to know you’re feeling terrible? That kind of screaming.

The occupants of all the stalls around me continued to enter and exit. Conversations in American accents took place and I could understand every single word of it. Talk about sensory overload.

“Get it together, Carissa. You can’t stay in here forever.” I tried to calm myself down. Yes there were 12 bags of luggage we had to wait for in baggage claim for our family of 6, but they didn’t take that long to come out. My window of alone time in the stall was coming to a close.

I had been on American soil for less than an hour and the culture shock was hitting me hard. It was worse than I’d ever experienced.

Because now I blended in. Because now I looked and sounded like everyone else. No one knew I was different. No one knew the United States was a foreign country to me.

I caught my breath and went back out into the hustle and bustle of the airport. I was 12 and my 5-year-old little brother made some kind of embarrassing comment about how fat everyone was and found utter fascination with the free, clean water drinking fountains while we waited for the last suitcase. As we stepped out onto the sidewalk for pickup, another terrifying wave of fear rushed over me. The cars sped by at insane speeds! Why didn’t I remember this? This was only like the eighth time I’d gotten off a plane into a country halfway around the globe from where I’d been 48 hours previously. Again, my little brother (who didn’t remember anything other than the past two years of his life in Southeast Asia) made an excited comment about how huge the trees were! It was all a wonder to him and intimidating to me.”

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