I was warned of reverse culture shock. I had experienced it before, but this time I had been away for much longer.
I felt so safe in Australia, I felt pretty safe in Southeast Asia, I definitely felt safe in New Zealand, and then I came home.
In my first few days back in the states, my Aussie roommates asked what was the most shocking coming home. I told them that it felt weird to be here. It was strange that I no longer had an accent. I had to get used to hearing everyone speaking the same as me. But the two biggest things that stood out to me were:
- Many people here are very, very fat, which is frightening for the health of our country, and
- The gun culture is one of nightmares.
One day in Salt Lake City, there was a sketchy-looking man walking around our car in a parking lot as we were coming out of a restaurant. He was trying to talk to us, and he was acting really weird. I felt scared. This guy had a duffel bag, and this was the first time in a long time that I thought to myself, “this person could have a gun.” That was a big revelation to me: I was back in a place where it seems that anyone and everyone has access to guns.
These first weeks back in the states, I heard about shootings happening all around the country. I was in towns where T-shirt shops had pro-gun shirts in their windows that said things like, “if you can count the number of guns you have, you don’t have enough.” For the first time ever, I saw signs on the doors of convenience stores and museums that said “no guns allowed,” because it’s that common for people to be carrying, especially out in the west.
Now, I know this is a controversial topic with my fellow Americans, and I don’t mean to start an argument about why we should or shouldn’t have guns here. But, I don’t always feel safe here, and that’s troubling to me. I don’t worry for my life on a daily basis, but I definitely feel like a lot worse things can happen here than anywhere else I’ve been in the past year because of how accessible it is for people to shoot one another.
This is supposed to be my home, where I should feel safe, but how can I? How can anyone? A few days into being home, a police officer was shot seven times right down the street from where I’m living. Every single day, there are reports of gun violence in most cities around this country.
I guess I was numb to some of it before I had left the country because I was sadly used to hearing about it all, but now it is really surprising. All of this news felt so far away when I wasn’t here, but now I have the perspective of someone who isn’t used to living among all this violence.
When I told my Australian roommates about the two things I found most surprising, they commented that yes, that was really sad, but they also weren’t surprised based on what they know about the states. They, like most of the rest of the world, listen in confusion as to how and why there can be so many daily tragedies in this country. They watch from afar, as if they’re watching us from outside the glass, us animals in a zoo.
I don’t know what the answer is, but I wish things were different. I’m living in the US again, probably for a very long time, and I wonder, should we continue to accept this violent normalcy, or is there a way we can all agree on some sort of change? Can our country feel free again, instead of fearful?