In the midst of the rush of returning students, The Thrill brings you Thea Kohout’s ’14 experience of getting thrown back into the Kenyon bubble.
Before I left my program in Cape Town, our program directors sat down with us and talked with us about the phenomenon of reverse culture shock, or the feeling of returning to your home culture after having become accustomed to a different one and experiencing culture shock all over again because of it. I didn’t put too much stock in this thing, though – I was excited to be coming home because I missed my family and Kenyon and my cats and American ketchup and Netflix—and I definitely should have. Because being back at Kenyon after my semester in South Africa is the epitome of reverse culture shock.
I missed this place while I was away, there’s no doubt about that. But when you’re away from a place, the first things you forget about are the things that used to annoy you, and you start totally romanticizing everything. Here are some things I forgot about in the eight months since I’ve been here:
How long the walk from New Apts to Peirce is when it’s really cold out; how it is literally impossible to avoid seeing someone; how hard first-years pregame in their rooms (living-in-Mather-as-a-junior problems); how everyone already knows everything about your weekend activities upon walking into Peirce on a Sunday morning; and how sometimes my nose ring freezes to my nose when it’s really, really cold outside. Getting used to all of that again is weird.
Weirder than that, however, is trying to figure out how to answer all the questions people ask me about my time away. “Was South Africa amazing?!” Yes. “Are you happy to be back, though?” No. Yes. Help. “What was Cape Town like?” Awesome. “How was Africa?” Wait, what? No. My go-to has been emphatic, good-natured (read: slightly manic) laughter and a swift switching of the conversation to, “No, but how are you?! How’s sophomore/junior/senior year?” The reasoning for this is twofold: one, I have no idea how to sum up four months’ worth of being in a different country into a neat, succinct answer; and two, once I get started talking about South Africa I literally will not stop. Ever, probably. Sorry about it.
Mostly what I’m adjusting to, though, is trying to navigate this unfamiliar territory of reconciling the “me” who just spent four months in South Africa with the “me” who was at Kenyon last, because although they’re essentially the same human, there are some big differences. I can’t really even articulate what those big differences are, except to say that my perceptions of the world, of Kenyon, and of myself are drastically different. I’m so glad they are: I think that if your worldview doesn’t change after being abroad, you didn’t do it right.
Re-entry into the Kenyon bubble is, to sum up, equal parts awesome and bizarre. The only thing I can say with absolute certainty is that there is nothing better than eating freshly panini’d Peirce cookies for the first time in eight months.