Going Back Home and Readjusting to My Culture

Cesar Palencia (Venezuela), Global UGRAD Fall 2016

It’s been almost a year since I was selected to participate in the Global UGRAD Program. I was so excited, especially because I would be part of the fall cohort and would be traveling three months later. The embassy had informed my partners and I about culture shock when traveling, and I thought it was really interesting. In fact, I told myself I would not have culture shock. I would have a positive mind, and I would always be in the “honeymoon” stage. Every experienced Global UGRAD can tell you that I was totally wrong.

Throughout the whole journey, I lived the dream of my life. I visited amazing places, met beautiful people, had positive and negative experiences, learned about culture, shared my culture, lived on campus, and felt so relaxed. Such an unforgettable experience! I wish it never had to end, but it did.

On the day I realized there were only ten days left, I started to get worried. I had met beautiful people who supported me through the semester. My host family, Ben and Robin, were so kind and generous to me, and I was so lucky that this Christian couple let me be part of their family. Also, my international friends – Sarah, Daniel, Danielle, Roisin, Xin, Neyla, Nicolas, Shintaro, Suzu, Sezim, Natalia, Clo, and many more – taught me that culture is important. As we learn about others’ cultures, we grow and become more open-minded. Most importantly, we become global citizens. Also, I met Emily, my girlfriend, at Maryville College (MC). I believe she is the sweetest American girl I’ve ever known. To be honest, I did not want to go back home. Maryville College, a multicultural college, was amazing. The time I spent at MC was the best part of my life. Go Scots!

I was afraid about going back home because I remembered that, at the End of Program Workshop in Washington, DC, they gave a workshop about reverse culture shock. They said it can be worse than the culture shock you live when you travel abroad for the first time. I was confused, and I did not know what to think about that. Then, I calmed down because I knew I had to come back; I had no choice.

Saying goodbye to people when you don’t know whether you’ll see them again is so painful. My advisor Kirsten Sheppard, the mom of the iHouse Mickey, my international friends, my professors, my girlfriend, my host parents- – I miss them all so much, and I never thought I would feel that way today. I got home safely after a five-hour layover in Panama, and I was picked up by my friend’s parents. They let me stay that night at their house, and, the next day, I rode home.

When I got home, it felt kind of bittersweet. While I was at the States, having the time of my life, something awful happened back home. My dad passed away a month before my arrival. All I wanted was to see him when I was back home, but it was not possible. I had no other choice but to be strong. A brave friend of mine, a fellow Global UGRAD alum from Honduras, was there when I needed someone to talk to, and she understood what I was feeling. She lost her mom while she was in the States. I would love to thank her for being there. She was my role model, and we both supported each other while going through this situation. In addition, I thank God for giving us the strength we needed to make it until the end of the program.

Things were not the same back home. In fact, I had a month to prepare myself psychologically for what I was about to live, something I did not even know. The days passed and I felt good. I was still in touch with my friends, and that made me feel comfortable. But I felt strange when I started leaving my house. The reverse culture shock, which is worse than the culture shock abroad, came. I will list some of the experiences I had:

  • I was mad when people did not respect the line at the bank;
  • I felt mad again when people threw trash on the streets;
  • I had another shock when people did not respect the line to get on the bus.

People would ask me the same questions: Are you back? When are you traveling again? How was it? Can you go back?

Also, when I got to my university, I had more culture shock. Professors were not that supportive, and getting to the university was terrible.

Yes, I had forgotten how my life had been before having the Global UGRAD experience. It has taken me awhile to get used to how I used to live, and I feel I have changed. However, one of the best parts of being part of the Global UGRAD family is to get to know people from other countries – other UGRADs who are going to be your friends for life.

I asked many of my Global UGRAD friends how they were doing and how their readjustments back home were going. I found out we were going through the same situation. Readjustment can be tough – you feel sad and depressed, and you can even cry. On the other hand, you feel a relief when you see that you are not alone in this. All of the Global UGRAD friends you have made are going through just the same thing. We supported each other, and I am so thankful for that. We created groups on Facebook and WhatsApp to keep in touch.

Although it has been more difficult for some than others to readjust, we still keep in touch and try to help each other as much as we can. That is why I want to thank my Global UGRAD family from Central America who have supported me so much. Thank you all! Finally, as one of my fellow UGRADs said, “We do not have to cry because it ended, we have to smile because it happened.” Global UGRAD – connecting nations and transforming lives! Once a UGRAD, always a UGRAD!

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