Life After the Peace Corps: Culture Shock at Home

I came across this article (Life After the Peace Corps: How to Adjust When You’re Back Home) through a Facebook friend and fellow RPCV and it got me thinking…

When I finished my Peace Corps service I couldn’t  wait to get home and experience all the things I had been missing desperately. Some things were simple and universal, others were more personal and complex:

  • Seeing and spending time with my family.
  • Ordering a pizza or any other kind of takeout when I was too tired to cook.
  • Speaking the same language as the waiter, bank teller, cab driver, grocery clerk…
  • Peanut butter.
  • Clean sheets that smell like fabric softener.
  • Being able to wash and dry my clothes using machines. No more knuckle-rub in a tumpun (bucket)! No more freeze-drying my laundry in the winter!
  • A fast internet connection.

And so much more…

However, my return came with a few issues. Jet lag, for one, but also a big dose of culture shock. The Peace Corps does what it can to prepare PCVs for the culture shock they’ll all experience upon returning the their home country, but there’s nothing to really prepare you.

In the seminars leading up to any PCV’s Close of Service (COS) many topics are discussed, including:

  • Sharing your experiences during your service with friends, family, and strangers without becoming annoying. Unlike this guy: Conversations
  • How to utilize your service in a job interview/resume/application.
  • What to do with yourself when you get home.
  • Culture Shock. Yes it happens, and it’s often in the most unexpected places at the most unexpected times. (I guess it wouldn’t really be a shock if it were otherwise.)

I ended up having a miniature breakdown in the shampoo aisle of Fred Meyer on my first day home. I had mentally prepared myself for the shock of such a humungous store, particularly compared to the tiny delguurs (shops) back in Mongolia. It was so huge! There were so many things I could buy!

Fighting jet lag I tagged along as my mother went to the store for some basic groceries. I needed shampoo and conditioner, and was worried if I stayed home I’d crash on the couch at 4 in the afternoon and wake up at 2 AM.

Even in Mongolia there are several different brands of hair products to choose from. There are a few Mongolian varieties and international brands like Head & Shoulders and Pantene are easily recognizable. However their labels are often hard to read as they are often in Russian. Did you buy shampoo? Conditioner? 2 in 1? The world may never know…

So, after I gawked in wonder at all the produce (apples, oranges! Grapes! TOMATOES!), the variety of products (paper towels, Peanut Butter! DRYER SHEETS!), and all the other well… junk that it was possible to buy, Mom and I made it to the grooming section of Freddie’s.

I stood, completely shell-shocked for a moment; just how many different kinds of shampoo are there? Trying to be helpful my mother pointed out that cheaper brands were towards the front while the good, expensive stuff was toward the back.

“Uh…um…” I stuttered. Then, to my embarrassment my eyes started to well up with tears. How could I make a choice? There were so many to look at; I didn’t even know where to begin such a daunting task as picking one. What if it was the wrong choice?

Seeing my distress my fantastic mother took my face in her hands and said “Woah, it’s okay sweetie. What do you want your shampoo to do? Curl, straighten, de-frizz…?”

“Clean my hair?” I replied on a bit of a sob.

“Okay, we can do that.” Almost blindly my mother seized a bottle from the relative middle of the aisle. “How’s this? Aveeno. Good stuff.”

“Oh, I know that brand, I like their lotion. Okay. I’ll get that one.” Alas, it wasn’t so simple. Even after picking a brand I still had a few options to choose from. Moisturizing? Oily hair? Curly hair? In desperation I opened the bottles and just chose the ones that smelled the best. Dumping them into the cart, I said. “Can we go home now? I’m no sure I can handle much more of this.”

“Of course. Let’s blow this pop stand!” Mom cheerfully replied. (She’s always used the most colorful expressions, I’d really missed that about hanging out with her.)

 

It wasn’t until I got home and into the shower that day that I realized that I’d bought two bottles of shampoo instead of one shampoo and one conditioner.

 

For some good advice on readjustment issues

check out the link that inspired this post:

Life After the Peace Corps:

How to Adjust When You’re Back Home 

from The Daily Muse.

 

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Categories: Life Abroad, Peace Corps | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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