Hey Mike, When I moved away to my boarding school, I had many discussions with my classmates about topics that are taboo back home. I learned a lot, and my opinion has changed on issues such as LGBTQ rights, which are not a thing in my country. I know that when I go back home it’s going to be hard for me to act as if I never learned about these things, and even harder to make my friends and family understand. How can I approach this?
– A febrile first year
Dear febrile first year,
You’re not alone in your struggle! Many people will experience “reverse culture shock” when they go back home for summer or winter break. Like when you first came into a new environment, you feel destabilized and experience emotional ups and downs, and it can lead to frustration towards people or a culture that you’ve lived with your whole life. To answer your question, I’ll start by repeating something that a friend told me when I returned home: After travelling, it is often easier to accept the Other than to accept your neighbor.
This summarizes the core of reverse culture shock. Coming back, you find yourself frustrated with people for not understanding the things you learned abroad. “Why are they so narrow minded? Why aren’t they getting it?”, you may ask with heightened frustration. However, in order to keep your levels of irritation at a minimum, remember the idea of cultural relativism: a culture should be understood in its own context rather than judged against the criteria of another. What we understand as right or wrong cannot always be directly applied to another context. For instance, on many Western campuses we try to use gender neutral pronouns for those who do not identify with the gender binary or when we don’t know someone’s gender. However, if you go home to a community where the LGBTQ + community is a Taboo it would not make sense to ask them to start using gender neutral pronouns before the foundation of basic knowledge about the LGBTQ+ community is taught.
Also, keep in mind that you were very lucky to have an experience where you lived with such a diverse community that made you grow and shift your mindset; not everybody has had this opportunity. When you were immersed in Pearson culture, it probably took you some time before your point of view shifted, and so, for family or friends who stayed home and lived in the same culture they grew up in, it will likely take way more time to change than it did for you; in fact, they might never change as much as you did, or in the same way.
This is not to say that you shouldn’t try and bring new ideas or values to your home community, just that you have to be patient. To help you convey your ideas, think of what made you change your mind in the first place. You can use movies or books and show them to your family or friends, or try to find other people in your own community who think like you and develop strategies with them such as workshops. Remember that different approaches will be needed for different settings and for different people. What I’ll leave you with is this. Remember the discomfort you felt when you came to Pearson. You had to be patient with people because you didn’t think like them, nor did they think like you. You’re well seasoned in patience by now. I urge you to use this training when you go home, exercise patience with your community. Remember, they will come to see your point of view, however, it simply will happen with time.