As most of you – or probably all of you – know, I used to be a Peace Corps Volunteer once upon a time. I served for four years in the Dominican Republic. And as you might expect, there is a lot of training and preparation that goes into becoming a Volunteer. In training, you learn the skills that you will need to do your project work; and you also study the language and the culture of your assigned country to try to prepare yourself to live and work for two years – sometimes more – in a different country.
But one aspect of Peace Corps that doesn’t get talked about very often is the fact that they also actually train us for how to come back. We actually spend time in Close of Service (or CoS) training before coming back to the US. They help us update our resumes and teach us how to condense our years of service into concise stories – literally, we had to practice that. But even more than these practical bits of training, they tried to prepare us for the strange reality of reverse culture shock.
Most people know what regular culture shock is – you move to a new place and find yourself constantly bumping up against a different culture with different values and different ways of doing things than what you’re used to. Reverse culture shock, on the other hand, is when you come back again and the culture is the same one you’re used to, but you are a different you.