I got out of the taxi, massive suitcase in tow, and looked around at HCA. The orange brick of the Haverford College Apartments now contrasted against trees full of green, lush leaves; the trees were bare when I departed 5 months prior. Students were scrambling to put boxes into storage for the summer, and families reunited; in December, I was the one frantically trying to organize my life, while weathering one goodbye after another. Where had I been for almost half a year? Had I really been in 14 different cities in 4 months? I could envision Vienna’s Ringstraße and its beautiful buildings with clarity, but everything seemed to have a warm haze around it. I felt rather Rip Van Winkle-esque.
Before I left Vienna, the IES Abroad director sent out a long email about reverse culture shock, or re-entry culture shock. Essentially, he warned that we may experience some of the cultural shifts that we had experienced coming to Europe upon coming home. Our vision of home would, perhaps, have shifted. As I looked around HCA, a wave of emotions rushed: immense happiness to be back; ache for my friends from abroad, now dispersed throughout the world; a brief moment of Are you insane?? Why didn’t you fly directly home to Seattle?; and then, simple fatigue. Perhaps the most shocking, and the most wonderful part of my reverse culture shock, is that it hasn’t felt shocking at all.
On May 17th, I finished my German final, and technically became a senior in college (!). On May 18th, I flew back to Haverford, PA. On May 19th, I watched the HC Class of 2013, and many of my best friends, graduate. Jet lag? Please. Among the honorary degrees at graduation was Hunter Rawlings, a member of the HC Class of 1966. As he commenced his commencement speech, he said simply but emphatically, “I love this college.” I was still feeling a lot of feelings, but the most profound was that simple. Yes, I was still struggling to comprehend that I had been on a different continent mere hours prior, the bittersweet joy of friends’ graduations, and even the simple fact that the summer months awaited. But overwhelmingly, as I looked out at my friends, I just felt, I love this college too, Hunter.
I am so, so grateful for the time that I spent away from campus; all the cheesy stuff you hear about abroad is true. You do grow as a person, you do become more independent, and you do broaden your horizons. My reverse culture shock has manifested it most concretely in my severe cravings for European dairy products, but my definition of home hasn’t been altered, simply ratified.
Heimat (feminine noun). The direct translation from German is home or homeland. This is one of those cases where a lot gets lost in translation. Heimat is more than a home – it refers to the cozy and intense feelings of connection to a specific place, a community. I consider Seattle to be a Heimat, but my birth-town in Germany equally so. But Haverford is my current Heimat, and coming back didn’t feel shocking, but rather comfortable and easy, like waking up from a very enlightening dream.