Observations

Feeling Disconnecting from Family & Friends after Travel

It’s just my theory; I don’t have any studies to back it up other than dozens of random conversations with other travelers and expats, but I do firmly believe that the more we travel am different cultures the more we become disconnected from our own culture.

Feeling Disconnected after Travel; What is going on?

It is truly a weird experience to return after six months of travel to your home town, family and friends and find that conversations with not hold your attention. You love your family and bask in the attention and smiles of your closest friends, but something has changed. Conversations seem somehow superficial and uninteresting. What they heck is going on? Why is talking about the neighbors new back porch or the new pet poodle not holding your attention? Why is it that the TV running 24-7 in multiple rooms driving you to a nervous breakdown as reality shows and super-TV dramas play while friends gather to watch Game of Thrones or Orang is the New Black? It is a stressful realization when a traveler realizes that somehow during six months away from your home it seems you have gained 10 years of experience while everyone else has been frozen in a time capsule. There really is no better way to describe the experience that that. You are forced to admit something has changed and that change has happened inside you forming a giant disconnect those closest to you and there is no fixing it or turning back. How do you go forward? What do you do? These are the questions I’ve pondered.

stellaBeing from Africa, but Being Called White

One of my couchsurfing guests, Stella Ntei hails from Tanzania, Africa and has been traveling internationally for about fives years outside her own culture. During this time she has picked up cultural habits which she enjoys—things like coffee in the morning, wearing flip-flop sandals during the day or during long airplane flights, or not wearing her kanga wrap while in the house. When she returns back to Tanzania to visit friends or family, they notice her behavior has changed and she has adopted habits from other cultures which are never done by her local culture. These are the habits of Mzungu (white man outsiders). When they see her behavior like wanting coffee in the morning, not wearing formal Sunday attire to get on an airplane, or other habits she has adopted, they call her a Mzungu with black skin. Basically they are saying she is a white person in a afro-american body (she prefers to be called afro-american rather than ‘black’). Stella explains her rationale, “Why not? Sometimes I see things I like in other cultures which can improve my life. I like to improve myself and learn from my travels.” Still, it makes it difficult to have general social conversations in your local culture.

Emotional Distress Among Friends and Family

AugustineQuoteI guess the best single word to describe how I feel among friends and family at home is “disconnected.” It’s a sick, weird feeling to have after months of travel and returning home to not be able to connect during conversations with your closest friends or family. Something is missing during those conversations and it can cause a feeling of panic. What’s going on? I believe friendship is an essential component of the human condition at a very primal, hard-wired level (see this great article on friendship). Conversations post-travel with family or friends, just seem lacking somehow. While I spend a lot of time thinking about cultural differences and the impact of media on conservative tribal societies (the modern equivalent of the Spanish explores impacting the Mayan culture some 500 years ago), conversations among family and friends at home revolve around some new habit the pet dog has formed or how frustrated my friend is with how a co-worker is treating her at work. Why are these conversations less interesting to me? Why have I become disconnected? I start getting stressed and distract that I can’t carry0-on a deep emotional conversation with my friends or family, but in contrast when I meet someone in a hostel in Kakow Poland in less than an hour I can have a super deep conversation with a total stranger which results in strong emotional connections? It seems somehow I have trouble relating to family and friends at home. They simply cannot relate to the feelings of living on a Jewish Kibbutz in Israel, or giving a dollar to an orphaned eight year old shoe shine boy in Antigua Guatemala who mother abandoned him at age two because she was 25 years old and had eight children while her husband only earns $1 per hour. Even talking about topics like this to family and friends seems to put you in a different world. They simply cannot relate or comment. Conversation isn’t really possible at a meaningful level—something stressful for both me and whomever I’m speaking with.

 

4 comments

  1. Returning from extensive travels, being formed by adopting other cultural norms is probably just “too foreign” to those left behind.

    I think the sense of “home” for many people includes the security (dependence?) on local events and lifetime habits. They are not the nomads.

    I don’t travel as much as in past but I quietly live and carry my experiences wherever I am.

    From family eventually there was acceptance and that’s gotta be enough. Still-feeling like my tribe is not in just one location, nor only in this current time frame, musically speaking.

    Global Vicki

    Reply
    • I agree very much with all your comments. thanks for your insights!

      Reply
  2. I think it’s hard because in many parts of the world you are seeing much suffering, people living in extreme poverty which you can do nothing about. At home few are really interested in your experiences except just for a few lines of conversation. When I return from trips like this, that has been my experience.

    Reply
    • Pat, thanks for your comment. I see a lot of people living in extreme poverty, but most of them, from what I could tell, seem much happier than rich people in the cities. I often see kids laughing and playing near wood shacks with wood floors and no windows and men and women smiling and laughing as they sorted wood or vegetables in front of their shacks. I’m not sure poverty or money has much to do with happiness.

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