The Cure for Culture Shock

I’ve been commuting across the equator for almost five years, but my recent return from Chile really broke me.  Granted, I had been living barefoot on an eco-village at the base of the Andes for seven months; but the shock of landing in Dallas suffocated my heart in a sticky sheet of cellophane. As much as I blinked, drank water, and stumbled through the self-help books, I just couldn’t penetrate the hard, plastic sense of doom that lingered on North American soil. Trying to pick up my “American-ness” was like trying to slide into an old jacket that now felt musty, awkward, irrelevant.

If you’ve traveled abroad, you probably understand how it is to find coins, trinkets, and wadded up memories of the former versions of ourselves hidden away in the pockets of those suits.  Yes, living abroad gives us a chance to air ourselves out, hang up our souls on some new hangers, but coming home–can be a tattered chaos. Even Hunter Thompson used to say about traveling that “back was the worst”.

But wait, don’t slap on the ex-pat patch yet. After some trials and conversations with “recovering” Americans, we’ve found some cures for the culture hangover:

Be Prepared.  If you’ve spent more than 3 months abroad (or even just flown from NYC to LA for the weekend for that matter), just know you will probably live some version of a bad science-fiction film upon your return. It won’t last forever. Instead of fighting it, embrace it as part of the journey. Expect to meet people who will pretend to be experts about the country you just came from–even if they’ve never visited.  Try to hold off on the judgements, and remember, we Americans think we know it all–until we leave.

Find the Quiet.  Lay down on the grass. Sleep a lot.  Don’t expect to jump right back on the gringo treadmill.  Didn’t you just get into a way more chill pace anyways?  Be quiet, walk slow, observe.

Dance yourself into a Trance.  When the brain starts to overact and feel sick for a vague, unidentifiable sense of nostalgia, lose your mind.  Biking, running, swimming, radical dancing–all help the body to arrive, be present, and forget the drama. After you’ve sweat make sure to stretch, breathe, and allow yourself to catch up with all the traveling.

Food as medicine.  Let’s face it: the croissant you buy at home will NEVER taste as good as it did in Paris.  That goes for the fruit juices, steaks, and platanos. Instead, eat dark greens if possible and other seasonal veggies/fruits.  Boost up on Superfoods like Solay Foods (see ad on the right) Green Blend and other nutrient-packed nutrients like Goji Berries, Spirulina, Wheatgrass, and Macaroot (just pretend these aren’t imported).  Traveling tends to freak out our adrenals, too, so herbs such as Ashwaganda, Holy Basil, and Siberian Ginseng help to calm and neutralize.

Laugh and Celebrate.  You survived the journey!  You have stories to tell, songs to sing, and friends who will listen–and hopefully make you laugh.  Find them. Give them gifts. Exaggerate your tall tales.

Write it out.  The alchemy of words help us remember who we are, how we’ve transformed and integrated, and what parts of the other world we will carry with us. Journaling helps us find our centers no matter where we are and look at our transitions without judgement or grief.  Write letters in long-hand to friends in the other country, and love letters to your future self.

What else?  We want to know!  Send us your comments and ideas.