I’ve been dreaming about sideways rain.
For those of you who are like me, California born and raised, you won’t necessarily understand the concept of rain that pelts you from the side in an icy cold shower as you walk from point A to point B.
In my dream, I’m wearing four layers of clothes, a scarf, and a fleece-lined hat. I don’t have an umbrella out, because an umbrella won’t protect you from sideways rain. I’m walking along a very familiar path, the one from the St. Andrews Campus back to my flat in the David Russell Apartments, about a mile away.
I always wake up before I get there.
I always wake up to eighty degree weather.
For someone who was raised in the sunshine state, I sure don’t like the heat anymore.
That was the first thing that gave me culture shock: living in a place with rain and wind, and sometimes even snow. This place that I was going to live for an entire year had weather unlike anything I had ever experienced in my sunny home. And it did shock me. For a while.
And then I got used to it.
I expected to wear two pairs of pants, a coat and a woolen hat just to go outside to do my laundry. That became my new norm. I got out of the California uniform of shorts, a t-shirt, and a pair of flip-flops.
I remember when the plane touched down in SFO the last time I came home from abroad. I’d left Scotland on a rather dreich day, full of fog and rain. It was around 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Upon landing in SFO, I discovered it to be 75 degrees. And, boy was I excited about it.
After an entire summer of 75+ degree weather, and the first month of school the same, I can officially tell you that I miss the sideways rain. I miss the cold. The cold was an initial shock when I first got there, but now the heat has become just as shocking.
The Unexpected Shock
Your IFSA leaders will tell you about culture shock, and they will probably discuss it in great detail, but they likely will not go into great detail about reverse culture shock. You may think it’s hard going to another country, completely changing your norm, but by the time you get back that change has become your norm.
I think it’s harder to deal with reverse culture shock than initial culture shock. At least with initial culture shock you know you’re coming home at the end. Reverse culture shock leaves you hoping and praying and dreaming that you can get back to the place you had to leave, the place that has become your home.
I bought a book recently, purely because it was set in the town of St. Andrews where I spent my year abroad. During a scene in the book, the main character goes into St. Rule’s Tower and looks over the tiny town, contemplating her life since moving to Scotland.
“Scotland felt like home in a way the Sunshine State or Sunshine Coast never had. This was where she belonged and she knew it.”
The author may have been alluding to Florida and the East Coast, but sitting in California in the sweltering heat reading that line, I really felt the author speaking to and about me.
Where do I belong?
I’d always thought that Mills College was the place where I belonged. Academics were a breeze. I was used to rolling out of bed and showing up and being rewarded for it. I was also used to the socially conscious atmosphere.
St. Andrews was the opposite of that. Academics were rigorous. People expected you to look your best at all times. People were anything but socially conscious.
And that was hard to get used to. But once I did, God. It was so hard to walk away and come back to Mills where nothing happens past 6pm.
This atmosphere I’d always been used to, this place that I had chosen the first second I stepped on campus, it was no longer home.
It is so hard to adjust to a place that doesn’t feel like home. It was hard when I got to Scotland, because even though they speak the same language, there is so much that is different about their culture, from taking the bus to shopping to academic expectations.
But I did adjust.
And now I’m not the same person I was when I got there, and I’m expected to go a direction that almost feels backwards, to readjust to the way my life was before. And I hate it. I don’t fit in to this culture anymore. And I don’t want to.
I’m a mix of Scottish and American cultural norms, and there’s no coming back from that. That is such a duality that I’ve never had before. I am more than one thing, and that makes me so special. Going to this entirely different place made me different on the inside.
There will always be something shocking about going from one place to another, but one day you’ll find your home, and you’ll do anything to cling to that culture, to make it a part of yourself.
There are parts of me that will always exist from California, like how I say “hella” and “like” in every sentence. But there are parts of me that exist from my time in Scotland, like how I constantly slip up and call french fries “chips” and eat them with a fork, how I miss eating Haggis every day for breakfast, how my mom always makes fun of me for calling things “lovely.” And other things, like how I sometimes write the date backwards or use the wrong grammar skills when writing papers.
It is so hard to change. But instead of changing, I am trying to bring a little bit of Scotland with me everywhere, inside of me. And, maybe one day I will be back.
I do know that I went from a girl with no plans to go back to school after graduating from college, to a girl with four incomplete applications to Scottish universities. Studying abroad made me more of myself, and I never saw myself out of California, but now I see myself in Scotland. Maybe not forever, but at least for now.
After all, California’s been getting a little bit of rain now, but I still need to get my fix of sideways rain.
Greta Ruttenberg is a student at Mills College and studied abroad with IFSA in Scotland at the University of St Andrews in 2016. She is an IFSA-Butler Global Ambassador.