Most people have heard of culture shock, but reverse culture shock is a lesser-known phenomenon. Having studied abroad for a number of years, the question of where my home is becomes increasingly complicated. When I’m in the US I start to miss Singapore, but when I return I almost feel like an outsider. Somewhere along the way, I’ve become a local here and not merely a visitor. Visitors are the hordes of tourists passing through the US every day, only staying long enough to gain superficial impressions of this place. I feel it most keenly when a tour bus passes me as I’m walking along the street- the distinction of me from them. It’s not to say that they’re an unwelcome presence or anything, but there’s a barrier that separates us, fragile as it may be. I’m one of the countless fish swimming in a large bowl, and they’re the others observing us through the glass.
Singapore has changed so much in the years that I’ve been away that I wonder if the Singapore I long for is just a myth of the imagination now. Every time I return I find myself looking at the locals in a way I’ve never done before, watching them go about their daily activities in a slightly detached manner. I read about the news events and developing social issues, and feel odd that I’m not there in person to witness them. I’ve gotten so used to living on my own when I’m abroad that sharing a space with family members is a jolt to my system. I cherish the company, but I miss the privacy and independence.
I’m not sure where I’ll be in future, whether it is the US, Singapore or somewhere new, but I’m starting to view myself as a citizen of the world. I’m not tied to a particular place or culture; instead I love to travel, learn and absorb what works for me. Maybe this is what it means to be a free spirit.