Posted by: Megan | August 10, 2007

When wrong feels right!

Just as living and travelling abroad requires a number of adjustments to be made, so does coming home! Cross-cultural re-entry is a process I am well familiar with. I experience it every time – to varying degrees! Sometimes, if truth be known, the process of cross-cultural re-entry isn’t as bad as I anticipated due to the need of a decent latte – the taste of one can be very good at deflecting from that foreign feeling of being home!

Not so long ago the bed-sheets covering the faded blue couch were finally pulled from underneath me at Jac and Dyan’s beachside LA home – in a bid to farewell me after 5 months away before heading back to my Melbournian lifestyle! Hope of being a new trend that breezed (like the palms of Santa Monica) through to Hollywood was no longer an option as their linen cupboard was full again!

After 5 months I had become almost too comfortable with my new lifestyle – to the point I did not want to leave. I wondered on the eve of my return just how fast the ducks on the Venice Canal system could digest my Australian passport. I mean, I even managed to master the successful art of driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road! Do you know how long that took? Seriously … And so then being re-united with Melbourne was like starting all over again. The wrong side became the right side and in turn the right side suddenly became the wrong one … My only visible trace of my time in LA then being a LA Lakers T-Shirt and UCLA sweat I had bought there …

So I decided to ask other travellers about their experiences and here is what some of them had to say …

Darrell Wade – Co-founder of Intrepid Travel

“In the early 80’s I had a year away travelling – mainly in Asia. It was an amazing year – chock full of different adventures interspersed with periods of blissful inactivity. I’d met heaps of different people and lived lots of different cultures. Some of the best – and worst – days I’d ever had. And then I came home. And then the melancholy struck. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be at home – it was just the incredible blandness of it all. My friends were all the same, they all had the same jobs; they lived in the same houses and were dating the same people. They were all going about their lives and doing the same stuff. I’d been living this incredible roller coaster for a year and it just seemed to me that they were stuck in a time capsule, unable to escape. They didn’t really care what I’d been up to – and I what they had been up to just seemed incredibly dull. Of course before too long I’d got a job, moved into a house and was pretty much back in the time capsule with them. Life had returned to normal and in fact it didn’t seem so bland at all. For a couple of years anyway – then I took off travelling again and had another year on the rollercoaster…..”

Bruce Foreman photographer

“The first time I came back from overseas, I got on the 136 bus to Dee Why Beach and the bus driver asked me for $1.35 or whatever it cost back then. I had to swallow the Indonesian phrase “Aduh. mahal sekali, aku mau harga umum” which means “Oh my God, how expensive, I want the normal price.” In Woollies I wanted more interaction. I wanted to bargain for my avocadoes and try and charm a rambutan or two into the deal. I missed Indonesia, I missed breakfasts of Nasi goreng and banana pancakes. I missed guitar sessions on the beach, being squeezed into bemos with six chickens and a mattress, living in bamboo huts perched above coral reefs. I missed the exotic. I missed the life lived centre stage but simultaneously on the edge. I wouldn’t say I got depressed. I just couldn’t utter a sentence without the words “when I was in Indonesia…” in it. I was in love.”

Jacquie Burnside – VIP Sales and Marketing for Intrepid Travel North America

“My biggest cultural re-entry crisis came when I returned to Australia after spending 5 years ‘on the road’ travelling the world….well, actually it
was really time spent travelling interspersed with intense months of working long hours in London to re-finance for the next trip (it is amazing how far you can stretch a two-year UK working holiday visa 😉

So back to Oz I went with some pounds in my pocket to spend my first 8
months of getting back to ‘the real world’ bumming my way around
Australia… working on the odd farm or fruit orchard as I went to top up
the travel funds. For anyone who has picked and packed tomatoes and
capsicums, you’ll know there were some tedious periods to the otherwise
exciting life of just being a traveller, seeing new places and meeting new

But, I figured, all good things must come to an end and the time came to
see if I was now grown up enough for a ‘real job’ and putting down some roots. Randomly, i choose to try this in Melbourne and started the job-hunting process by sending off my resume and a cover-letter to Adventure Travel Companies and retail Travel Agencies citing my travel experiences in the hope of landing a job that would somehow keep me connected to international travel and adventure, even if I wasn’t actively participating myself.

One company, Intrepid Travel, called me back and said ‘you don’t really
sound like a typical office bod but we do have jobs going for Tour Leaders if you are interested in moving to Asia on a minimum 18 month commitment.’

Wellllll… you might imagine, it took me all of about 3 minutes to
think that sounded a totally fab idea for someone just in off the road and
trying to be all grown up and settle down.

7 weeks later I was bound for Bali, Indonesia, backpack firmly back in
place, trekking boots dusted off and for the next 3 years I spent my days
sharing my new world with travelllers from around the globe. My ‘job’ took me all over the islands of Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam and couldn’t have been a more perfect time. Imagine being paid to eat amazingly exotic and varied tropical fare, trek through jungles, ride elephants, stay with local families and enjoy their warm hospitality, laze on pristine beaches, climb volcanoes, learn about ancient cultures and do and see different things every day of the week.

Seriously, ‘my office’ was a beach hut one day and a bungalow in the rice
paddies the next. Hmm, would I spend my time off in Thailand or in Bali? Massage anyone?

Deciding to hang up my Tour Leading hat was cause for my next reverse
culture shock but that is surely another story!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Do you have an experience to share? I would love to hear about it …

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