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A Return After Two Years Abroad


Reverse culture shock hits Sagan on a trip back home.

What’s it like to pack up your bags and head off to a country you’ve never been to? A country where you may only know the basics on the language? For the first time, it was a mix of pure excitement and only a little bit of fear. I had nothing to lose coming straight out of university, and I certainly didn’t have a fear of leaving behind a job in retail. The second time, it was a bit more fear than excitement.

The first time I moved to Madrid was in 2010, the fall after I graduated from university and I was ready to actually put all the years I’d studied Spanish to use. I spent 10 months participating in the BEDA program in Madrid schools. After the school year ended, I decided it was time to go back to the US.

After just a year of travelling and working for a local non-profit in Maine, I made the decision to move back to Spain. I just knew my European story wasn’t over (and maybe it never will come to an end). That was July 2012. The feelings were similar to the first time I packed up, but this time it was a little less secure as to what I’d do for income. I signed up to be a student at a local language school and decided I’d go from there.

I found work teaching English (I became certified the summer before I moved) and I made it happen. My second year, I participated in an internship with the Spanish government. With a more stable income and freelance work from the USA, I have found my balance in order to make my life in Spain and I continue to do so still.

Now, after almost two years of living in Spain, I just arrived back to Madrid from a month vacation in Maine. Now that’s some reverse culture shock if I’ve ever had any.

My excitement stemmed this time from not a new and unknown experience, but from being able to go back home, to see my family and friends and the places that are filled with my memories. My fear came from all that would have changed.

From the size of supermarkets, paying out tips, to friends no longer living nearby—it all came as a shock despite having known what to expect. I found myself getting mad at the taxes not being already a part of the price on things from food to clothing. I found I have become totally against the idea of “forced” tipping habits that used to be so normal for me in the US. I found myself overwhelmed and excited by the options at the supermarket. And I found that toilet bowls filled up with way too much water.

But despite all the shock from being back in the states, I found comfort in being home; in falling back into my old habits of blasting country radio in my Toyota Tacoma driving past the beach to eating an early(ish) dinner (and lobster!) and drinking drip coffee in my parent’s kitchen.

It’s funny to think that things that once seemed so normal can seem new and foreign given enough time.

So if it’s your first time setting out on a new adventure, just remember that given enough time, hopefully new will become normal and your fears will take a back burner to all that awaits you. And if it’s a visit home, remember that your new experiences will have changed you and all that was familiar may come as a shock—but keep an open mind and just give it time and maybe you can fall right back into your memories.

I’m about to embark on a new year in Madrid—a new school with the North American Language Assistant Program, a new apartment, and some new adventures.

As for you, how do you feel about the new (school) year to come? Who is venturing to a new country or back home after being gone for so long?

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Sagan Pope

A native of Maine, Sagan now lives in Madrid, Spain where she follows her passion of exploring new places, eating amazing food and sharing good wine with friends. Sagan expresses herself best through writing and photography and along with her ukulele and travel backpack. Explore the ins and outs of the world with Sagan! 

Website: www.nativeofthenorth.me/

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