Friday, June 3, 2011

Re-adjusting to the comforts of home

From the Parkville Luminary

On my first day back in Parkville after 10 months in Uganda, I backed out of a parking space and wheeled the car into the proper position on the left side of the road. A patient driver coming my direction just stopped, no doubt perplexed by my odd behaviour.

This must be what experts mean when they talk about reverse culture shock, which is loosely defined as difficulties re-adjusting to one’s native culture after living abroad. For me, reverse culture shock manifests itself mostly in my new penchant for driving on the left side of the road (like they do in Uganda), and for using odd British phrases and spellings (like the superfluous ‘u’ in ‘behaviour’ in the first paragraph).

While back home in Parkville, I’ve truthfully driven on the left side only a couple of times, and then for only a few seconds. Most of you have been patient with me, although I’ve gotten a couple of nasty honks as I’ve hesitated in mid-intersection thinking about whether to veer left or right of the median. Also, in left-hand driving countries, the car’s controls are switched around, too, meaning that the turn signal is on the right side. Thus, if you see someone signaling a left turn on Main Street by running his wipers, you’ll know it’s me.

I’ve also returned home infected by odd Ugandan/British takes on the English language. Uganda was a British colony, and thus unfortunately adopted British vocabulary like bonnet (hood), boot (trunk), lift (elevator), and pudding (not really pudding). Additionally, Ugandans will usually say “ummm” to acknowledge agreement. I admire this because it’s easier than saying “yes”, although to Kansas Citians, it sounds like you’re angry, deranged, or Frankenstein. I caught myself “ummm”-ing at a business meeting a few days after my return. After hearing my grunts, those meeting with me were probably waiting for me to blurt out something like “idea bad” or “me like synergy”. Also, Ugandans say “sure” when they mean “really?” or “are you kidding?” I haven’t used this yet, but it’s only a matter of time. Finally, there’s having to re-learn how to spell without the gratuitous British ‘u’ (e.g.-“labour”) or the missing ‘z’ (“agonise”).

While I’ve been combating reverse culture shock, I’ve also experienced an epiphany of sorts. Yes, it’s a sappy cliché: my lengthy stay overseas has instilled in me a renewed love and appreciation for America generally and Parkville and Park University in particular. My list of “things I now appreciate much more than before I left” is a mile long and growing. This list includes:

Roads—I’ll never complain about a few potholes again. Our roads are really, really good, even though it sometimes takes a millennium to get them fixed. I thought I would easily dodge construction on the White Alloe bridge near Park University. I did manage to avoid that mess, but by only a few weeks.
Bed—There is not a bed in Uganda as soft and comfortable as my bed at home.
Draft beer—There is no draft beer in Uganda. I will never whine again when a tavern runs out of my favorite draft beer. You say you have only Miller on tap? No problem!
Health Care—I fretted constantly while my wife and son were with me in Uganda about what I would do if they became seriously ill. I will never again take for granted having an ambulance and sophisticated emergency medical care only five minutes away.
Security—Uganda was in turmoil our last month there as protests expanded and become more violent. My project assistant was tear-gassed and nearly shot while trying to run errands recently. Naturally, we took every precaution to stay safe short of never leaving the apartment. Our forays into the community began to worry me more and more. I have a renewed appreciation of Parkville’s safety and serenity. (At least, it’s safe and serene for those of us who aren’t hot dog vendors).
Park University—I’m more appreciative than ever of my colleagues at Park who have encouraged my work and warmly received me upon my return. How many universities would be as supportive of a faculty member whose projects frequently take him away from campus for months at a time?

So, if you see someone with a contented, appreciative smile on his face driving on the left side making a turn with his windshield wipers on, feel free to ask, “Do you know you’re driving on the wrong side?” If the answer is “ummm”, you’ll know it’s me.

---Follow me on Twitter-- @PeaceJourn---

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