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Sensory overload. That’s what I call reverse culture shock. A virtual assault on my senses. All of them: sight, touch, smell, taste and hearing. I was so not prepared.Sure, people had mentioned it in passing, “Hey, Kim, by the way, you may experience some reverse culture shock.” I’d politely say, “Thanks,” and keep walking. Later, I’d wonder, What are they talking about? I’m not wondering anymore. No, I know now, more than I ever wanted to know. The strange part was I didn’t really feel a culture shock in moving from California to China. Sure there was the new climate, smells and living arrangements, but those weren’t too bad. Ok, the smells were bad. I don’t know maybe I was too excited about trying new food, exploring new lands and teaching students to be influenced by culture shock. I actually liked being overwhelmed by China. It became a safe little cocoon where I could just drift into the background. I lived in a world of white noise. It was beautiful. Traffic signs, advertisements and banners were just beautiful calligraphy on brightly colored paper. Voices became a staccato beat or soft hum to fill in the background of my conversations with other foreign teachers. I heard no Chinese; I spoke little Chinese and I read no Chinese. I fully understood why ignorance is bliss. For five months I operated in this capacity. Then it was time to come home. I was excited to return home. I missed friends, family and Chipotle. I was going to be getting home just in time for our family Christmas gathering. It all sounded good at first. The plan was to stay awake for 24 hours, sleep on the plane from Beijing to San Francisco, hit the beach, visit family, eat, sleep. That was the plan. After 40 hours of no sleep and a not-so-restful flight, I arrived in San Francisco. Getting off the plane, it hit me. Every part of my senses that were put to sleep in China were slapped awake in the airport. English everywhere. It was on signs. It was coming out of the mouths of people next to me. It was on the loudspeaker. It was overwhelming. My brain hurt. I wanted to tell everyone to shut up, but that’s rude. But it’s what I wanted to do. The urge to plug my ears, cover my eyes and curl up in a ball was growing every moment. It got worse outside the airport. We drove in a car past signs I could read as questions were asked about my trip. Now they wanted me to multitask in English. What was this torture! Then something wonderful happened. The windows were rolled down. Fresh cool air from the San Francisco Bay drifted through the car. We meandered around the outskirts of the city to my favorite spot, Ocean Beach. I hopped out of the car and headed for the inviting sand. The beach spoke a language all its own. It didn’t hurt my head at all. In fact, it refreshed it. I was home. As we climbed back into the car, I thought of leaving and being “shocked” again. Oh, my brain hurts. By Kim Orendor English website correspondent
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