I Got a Culture Shock Coming Back Home

Anne Bonfert

How it felt coming home after half a year in Africa

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Credit: Anne Bonfert

It is really weird to think about it, but I got a serious culture shock coming home after a few months travelling through Africa. While other people get a culture shock when travelling away from their home town. Usually when visiting a less developed or less civilized country. I got it the other way around.

It was anyway a weird time in my life. I finished studying, but didn’t want to start working yet. Because I didn’t know what. I never knew what I wanted to become. What I wanted to study.

I didn’t know what I want in life. But during my last two years studying, a dream started growing in my head. It was about the African continent. About travelling. Learning new cultures and meeting different people.

And when I was done studying I still didn’t know what I would like to do for a living. But I knew I wanted to go and see „Africa“. Whatever part of it I would see I didn’t care.

And so I did go. I spent almost five months in Ghana working as a volunteer in a school. I was living in a house made of mud and slept on a mattress on the floor. No electricity. No running water. No luxuries.

I was teaching kids who often came hungry or sick to school. It was a difficult time, but also a beautiful time. I learned so much. Grew as a person. And learned what you really need in life. Definitely not the newest iPad or PlayStation. To be happy you just need water, food on the table, a roof over your head and very important – the right people around you!

When I left the country I flew to Tanzania and spent another two months travelling through various countries in southern Africa. I travelled like the locals. Or with the locals. With buses, train, by boat and however I could catch a ride to the next country. It was a wonderful time.

But.

I found it very hard coming back home. After this trip of a lifetime.

Not because now I had to start the „real life“ and get a „real job“. (I never got to that point. Yet.) But because my mind wasn’t ready for the first world. For the first world problems.

I wasn’t ready to step in an elevator. I wasn’t ready to talk with friends about the new color they want to put on their nails. I wasn’t ready to go shopping with the girls. I wasn’t ready to go into a supermarket filled with food. Overloaded with food.

I actually went the first time together with my mom to the supermarket. And even though I grew up with all of it I was still overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by the variety. By the amount of everything. And simply by the difference from what I’ve seen in the last month’s and what I looked at now. The inequality. I wasn’t ready for it.

I was simply not ready to come home.

And that is most probably why I only stayed one month before I left again. Back to Africa.

I would look at people getting upset because the train was two minutes late. TWO MINUTES. I would spend three hours in Ghana waiting for the bus to fill up, because it would only leave once it’s full. That was only the time before the journey started.

Three hours sitting in a bus that is not moving! Imagine that. The bus drive afterwards would be five, seven or even eight hours long. Looking now at the time table for the subway and reading that the delay is two minutes just felt so wrong to me.

Thinking about how I would run from and to trains and buses just seven months ago. It just felt so far away. Far away from my reality. Or from that what was my reality for so long. That it felt like the new normal. The new normal for me.

I would be sitting in a train watching people. Everyone had their earphones in. Nobody spoke a word to each other. And suddenly I missed all these people who „bothered“ me while simply having a conversation with me.

I missed my seat neighbor. Nobody sits here in the train right next to you. Nobody. You will always sit down so that you have a seat free next to you. While I travelled the last months with children on my lap and chicken underneath my seat.

And now? It is eerie quiet. For travelling in a bus. Nobody is shouting. Nobody is making any sound. If a kid starts laughing loud the mom will tell him to be quiet.

I am walking through the streets on my way home. Nobody greets me. Like really nobody. No „hello“ or „how are you“. Nothing. Everyone is avoiding eye contact with each other. That is social distancing. Taking a distance from any other human beings in a social way. By not communicating with them.

I didn’t have any cheese while living in Ghana. They don’t have cheese. And I told my mom that I missed cheese the most from all the time travelling. Now I’m standing in front of the cheese counter and can’t say a word.

They have over a hundred different cheeses. Over a hundred? How on earth am I supposed to pick one of them? This is an unreal choice of cheeses. I simply couldn’t. I wasn’t able to pick what I wanted. I anyway left that store with very few items. Everything was just too overwhelming. I couldn’t make a decision.

I also struggled having conversations with my best friends. I just didn’t have what to talk about. While they suggested to go shopping, doing their nails or to just meet at a café I couldn’t do any of it.

I had to think about all the days I just asked my host family if we have water now so I can do laundry or got electricity for a few hours. In my off time I was going to markets to buy food or other things. There was no such thing as regular hobbies or practicing sports in a club.

I was difficult. Not them. It was me being difficult.

Because I couldn’t go back to where I left off with. Or maybe I didn’t want to.
After one month hanging in the air I flew back to Africa. I flew to Namibia. A bit more civilized and developed than most of the places I visited before, but still a bit laid back. That is what I wanted.

Something in between.

The culture shock back home was too hard for me. The cultures from where I came from in Africa and where I went to in Germany were simply lying too far apart.

I obviously knew what to expect when I decided to go to these countries in Africa in the first place. Or I knew at least what I shouldn’t be expecting. But when I came back home I never even thought about it. That I could get such a shock. That I would struggle in any way coming home. And that is why it hit me full on.

I’m fine now. But it’s still weird coming home every time.

I still live abroad.

The first thing I think of when I talk about coming home is the train ride from Frankfurt to Stuttgart. My first interaction with the first world after stepping off the plane. And reading the speed of the train. 250 kph. So unreal. That’s just way too fast.

It doesn’t give me enough time to see everything. I stare out of the window. Watch villages, forests and fields flying by. And before I really become aware of where I am I have to get off the train already. At least that didn’t change. The construction at the train station in Stuttgart. Still going on.

And here is where I tell myself. Behave normal. Walk like everyone else. Don’t look like as if you would be coming from another planet. But I got my eyes wide open. Take in everything I can see around me. Because it is so different. To me.

Just to get used to it again. The sounds. The looks. The language. The culture.

I have to get used to my culture again.

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I am a traveler. Photographer. Writer. Teacher. Skydiving instructor. Adventure enthusiast. Nature lover. And fell in love with the African continent. My stories go around travel, nature and all kinds of adventurous activities.

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