Is this what reverse cultural shock feels like?

Posted: August 20, 2011 in Categorized

I have now been back in the U.S. about a little over a month and every part of me, feels as though I was plucked from Denmark before my time.  As I try to re-establish a routine and re-adapt to the U.S. lifestyle that I left behind for a year in Denmark, I can’t help but feel like I’m having an outer-body experience.  I keep noticing things such as the obesity epidemic in the U.S. maybe because of the use of high fructose corn syrup in almost every food product (even food products such as applesauce) and how culturally, eating healthy is still like a vice.  Still there is a strong focus on living a lavish and extravagant lifestyle (so indicative of what many perceive of as the end result of the American dream), pushing them to live beyond and not within their means.  And most of all the visibility of the low-income/poor class, so indicative of the growing gap in wealth within American socio-economic classes.  Not that I didn’t notice these things before, but now I have an outside frame of reference that almost makes these experiences seem uncanny to me.

But, I can also smile as I notice the biking lanes that have been implemented in St. Louis and people are slowly taking a liking to it.  Although, I know it will probably take some time since most of the bikers here really stand out with biking attire, consisting of everything from biker shorts to helmets as though they are competing in the Tour de France.  When in Denmark I became accustomed to bikers ruling the streets, babies riding in the back of bike seats, women riding bikes while wearing dresses, or men in business suits, as biking has become an everyday way of life.

Each day, as I try to re-adjust to American lifestyle, I can’t help but to really look at my hometown with a fresh set of eyes, wondering how much do I really know about my own hometown.  You know how you can live in a place for years, get so use to it and then not really know much as you thought you did about it?  Oddly, I don’t even feel attached to my hometown!

There are still challenges with even applying my public health studies, the study area of my Fulbright research.  I felt so empowered from the high quality classes that I had taken about how to improve health for populations.  But now I realize just how difficult it is to apply my public health knowledge from Denmark to just the lifestyle of my own family.

I’ve noticed that in terms of healthy eating, it isn’t that people don’t necessarily want to eat healthy it’s just for many with the already tight squeeze of finances spending a bit extra on something healthy doesn’t seem cost-effective, beneficial, and/or isn’t even a top priority.  It’s more like, why buy wheat or whole grain bread for just a little bit more when I can buy white bread and apply that little bit more to a future bill payment.  This is the reality that I realize I live in (as I can only speak for myself).  Then, I begin to think about the high taxation of Denmark, how it feels so justified with all of the welfare benefits that the Danes receive, universal healthcare, paid higher education, and overall just a high quality of living.

I don’t know if I could quite call all of this reverse cultural shock.  It’s not that I am looking down on the U.S., I just seem to notice all the subtle intricacies of American culture or my life that I either took for granted or had become so accustomed to, that it wasn’t any need for me to be conscious of it.  In many ways, it feels like I didn’t just leave behind friends in Denmark but it feels like I left behind an extended family!  I really miss you, Copenhagen!

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