So I am back in London having left India with a heavy heart. I seem to have stumbled into a weird collective hangover after a the 4-day holiday inspired by the Queens Jubilee. After an unforgettable farewell from the students and the community in Manvi I am mulling over the last few months. On Sunday there was a nice ‘bridge’ to coming home – I was able to show some of the children the incredible scenes on the Thames of the BBC’s live footage of the Queens flotilla. These kids from the villages were amazed at the sights and sounds coming from the UK, the colours of the boats, the Queen, the flags and the pageantry, their eyes were popping out of their heads! For me it was two very different worlds colliding, something I am now experiencing, reverse culture shock is an interesting phenomena. Being home again, surrounded by the familiar but slightly disconnected, I am enjoying a certain anonymity as I walk around, after having been stared at in many places in India and Philippines, although all of the attention was very friendly particularly from young women! I will miss that but on the whole I prefer anonymity!
I hear the grass is greener in Aberystwyth…..
I have been chuckling to myself as today’s news headlines includes a story about the return of traffic wardens to Aberyswyth after a year of absence. Their return has been welcomed after a year of ‘chaos’ resulting from bad parking! – Aberyswyth has nothing on Manila or Bangalore! I haven’t seen a double-yellow line for a long time and at least there are no cows wandering down the middle of the street. The temperature of 12 degrees has come as a bit of a shock after a year of above 30. Although give me the choice of 45°C and 12°C, I’ll take chilly drizzly Britain any time! Something that always makes a big impact on me whenever I return home is how green the UK is, the plus side of so much rain! Luxuriating in a warm shower for the first time in 9 months is a wonderful feeling to be savoured slowly, but I will soon be taking that for granted. It is amazing how quickly we take for granted the many luxuries that are not shared by the majority of the world. Broadband, reliable electricity, power showers, indoor carpets, it is amazing how quickly these luxuries become perceived as necessities, as the Pew Foundation recently researched. Perhaps consumerism relies on that transition, so we need to be tied into buying and replacing or upgrading various bits of tech.
My experience over the last ten years of taking adolescents and university students to India and Africa is that reverse culture shock is a significant problem for some of them. Coupled with the dynamic idealisms of the young and the limited amount of interest shared by their friends and family about ‘their’ incredible experience, it is wise to try and prepare them for the re-entry to their own culture. We always have a ‘debriefing’ session and a day of reflection to prepare for this. A useful resource for them is the novel You Can’t Go Home Again by Thomas Wolfe published posthumously in 1940. Although the context is different, going back to small town America during the depression, the ideas are useful for getting young people to prepare themselves. The title comes from the denouement of the novel in which Webber realises: “You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood … back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame … back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time – back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.” The phrase “you can’t go home again” has entered American speech to mean that once you have left your country town or provincial backwater city for a sophisticated metropolis you can’t return to the narrow confines of your previous way of life and, more generally, attempts to relive youthful memories will always fail. It has been suggested that the phrase is sometimes spoken to mean that you can’t return to your place of origin without being deemed a failure.
I tell the youngsters You can Go home again, in fact you must go home again, but understand that you have changed. Be patient, try to understand why and when you get angry, but most importantly put into practice the things you have discovered about yourself and the world. When you are in your mid thirties the reverse culture shock is not so strong – but it is still there. So I hope my life will become more simple, my patience more robust and my compassion deeper now I am back…… a stupid and dangerous thing to write on a blog, please don’t throw it back in my face when I fail!!