When I left for Kosovo, I expected to be met with what is generally termed “culture shock.” I knew the rhythm of my everyday life would change. I would be eating new foods, learning a new language, and interacting with people who viewed life differently than I did. I understood the challenges. Though I understood the challenges, I harbored some fear. Fear of the unknown.
I lived and worked in Kosovo for ten months. My fears were quickly set aside and I enjoyed what I can only refer to as something akin to a celebrity status. Kosovars LOVE Americans. In a restaurant or even on the street, if someone realized I was an American, they would offer the biggest smile and tell me how grateful they are to Americans. I attended an Albanian wedding. It was beautiful and yes the bride and groom were the focus of our attention. But in the middle of the reception, my colleague and I were asked to stand. Everyone applauded as we were recognized. Because we are Americans. (To visit that wedding experience, CLICK HERE.)
The food in Kosovo was great. The coffee was incredible. I made friends from all communities and many nationalities. I learned how to call for a taxi…in Albanian. I attended parties, threw parties, and went shopping. I may not have been able to read all the labels, but I managed. Life in Kosovo was good.
As I said, I was only there for ten months. When people talked of reverse culture shock, I set their comments aside. I knew some of what they described. My middle daughter lived in Baku, Azerbaijan for a time. She had a meltdown the first time I took her with me to one of America’s super sized food stores. She was overwhelmed by the selection and abundance of food available. I understood what she experienced as reverse culture shock. Food was plentiful in Kosovo so I didn’t expect any stressors to hit me.
I was wrong.
I miss the tight-knit community I had with people in Kosovo. I miss the interactions with the nationals there and my church friends. I miss the pace of life that seems less busy and more intentional. And the very thing that made me more comfortable in Kosovo? That almost celebrity status of being an American? I miss that, too. I can’t help it. It was fun.
Don’t misunderstand. I love being near my family. I love having dinner with my mother, hanging out with my daughters, and hugging my grandchildren. I love getting together with friends and hosting people in my home. And if ever you’ve traveled, you know there is an easiness about hearing nearly everyone around speaking your own language.
I am three weeks home now. Settling back into the routines and rhythms of my life. Mostly. I drink more mineral water and watch less television. I’m trying my hand at recreating some of the Albanian foods I love. I find myself asking people over for coffee.
Maybe living abroad and moving back isn’t culture shock at all. Maybe it is a realignment of sorts. A recalibrating what is of value. It may be a strengthening of the core. A clearer understanding of who you are and who others are in this world. A true sense that Americans are great. And so are Albanians…and Serbians…and Mexicans…and Canadians…and…well, you get the picture.