Trying to Shake Reverse Culture Shock



Trying to Shake Reverse Culture Shock

I love the west of Canada. The Rocky Mountains proudly stand tall over deep blue coloured waters flowing from the rivers or settled in lakes. Lush green

The old cabin on Lake Louise

The old cabin on Lake Louise

statuesque pillars of limestone jut out of the coastal waters of British Columbia while tall fir and maple trees dominate the coastal rain forest.  The western prairies shine a bright colour of gold and lay dizzyingly flat but proud.  Cowboys and cowgirls roam the streets of Calgary during the Stampede while Yuppies and hippies intermingle on the lively downtown streets of Vancouver and Victoria.  The people in my great country might be the nicest in the world, they are always willing to help someone out regardless whether they are a friend or a stranger. This place is home, and will always be home, but the longer I stay the more I realize that I’m having a tough time shaking reverse culture shock.

I had been living in South America for 13 months and became quickly adjusted to the way of life. Time moves by slower in South America, but the cars don’t. Crossing a street becomes much like a video game from the 80s as you attempt to skip through the quickly moving cars as they shoot through the intersections. In Canada you have to look both ways when crossing the street, but in South America there are times I have to look all directions while walking on the side walk. I still stand in confusion on the sidewalks as the cars break hard to stop and allow me to cross in front of them, even if I’m not standing on a pedestrian crossing.

Wheat growing on the Alberta Prairies

Wheat growing on the Alberta Prairies

The prices of things still confuse me as well. I stood in line at a coffee shop the other day waiting to buy a bottle of juice. The girl in front of me ordered a latte, or something fancy like that, and was told the price of 6.45$. My eyes popped open in shock, but the girl pulled her wallet from her purse and handed the barista a 20 dollar note without a thought as to the price she was paying. 6.45 for a coffee, I thought, I remember when I was making 4.25 an hour working in coffee shop during junior high school. My bottle of juice came to 2.69$ a price which I paid in confusion. In Peru I pay no more that 1 sol (35 cents) for a water and sometimes a half a sol. Where is the difference of price coming from? I understand that there are differences, but a difference of over 600%?

The rhythm of live here is different too, more focused on money, and less on the life that should engage us, the world that is always around us. Walking the streets in South America you will often come across street performers of all sorts; and the truth is that we too have them in Canada. The difference is, however, that in Latin America they stop to watch, listen, and participate. They are never in too much of a hurry, and never fail to give into their child-like sense of curiosity. In South America most families still eat together, most friends still drink together, and neighbours still know their neighbours.

Sunset Rocky Mountain House

The sunsetting over the horizon as witnessed from the back porch of my childhood home

I wrote an article a while back about the 10 things I will not miss about South America, but I am starting to realize how insignificant to real life those things are, and how real the things that I do miss about South America are.  I can’t quantify into a list the things I miss about South America but I get the impression that they are more real, more important to my life.  The way of life in South America, it seems, has a way of drawing the best out of me.

I heard a couple speaking Spanish the other day in Stanley Park, Vancouver, and I couldn’t help but be sucked back to South America emotionally.  The crazy part is that I’ve never really been homesick thinking of Canada (with the exception of watching the gold medal Olympic hockey game virtually alone instead of in a bar filled with howling fans) but right now in Canada I am homesick of South America.

So this is the point in the article that I make a self indulgent announcement: I am heading back to South America at the end of October.  What I will be doing in South America, and where I will be visiting still isn’t entirely clear, but I will be back home in Arequipa at least for a little while.  Then, who knows?  There are plans in the works, the flights are booked, and I couldn’t be more excited to be starting this next faze in my life; and I hope you’ll continue to follow along with me as I embark on it.


Author: Brendan van Son

Author: I am a travel writer and photographer from Alberta, Canada. Over my years as a travel photographer, I have visited 6 of the 7 continents and more countries than I have any desire to count. If you want to improve your skills, be sure to check out my travel photography channel on Youtube . Also, check out my profile on . to learn a little bit more about me and my work.

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13 Comments

  1. I was only in south America for 5 months but it still took time, about a month, to get used to the change of being back, the speed of life and the prices. It’s good to hear you’ll be going back, I shall be following with interest. In the mean time, stay away from starbucks!! 😀

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  2. Today I stood in the line at Boost juice and I thought to myself, I really don’t like living in Australia anymore. It’s not that I don’t love my country, I really do, it’s just that it holds no allure for me anymore and I just don’t fit here. I love being Australian in a foreign land so much more.

    I think you have to accept that this is okay. I don’t have to live in my country forever just because I was born here. Just like I don’t have to stay with my high school sweetheart forever just because he was my first boyfriend. We change, and we grow and with that comes different horizons.

    I know how you feel my friend. I’m happy for you that you are taking the leap to follow your heart, and I hope that I will be soon following you.

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  3. I found myself nodding as I read through this piece. There is something about the pace and quality of life in certain parts of the world. Whether it’s the availability of fresh foods, affordability and simplicity in life, culture, pace, whatever, it can be hard to return home when you realize your values and priorities have shifted.

    Congratulations on making the decision to return and good luck in your next adventures there!

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  4. Aah Brendan, I know just how you feel, young man…I have been living the life of an expat here in Mexico for 3 years and made a trip to the U.S. recently for longer than I anticipated and couldn’t wait to get back to my life in Mexico…The vecinos (neighbors) walking past my house each day speaking Spanish, the good eats at the local stands, the Plaza’s filled with wandering people (A great place to people watch) and the laidback life here….It is always a Culture shock for me going from Mexico back into the U.S. I love America but feel so different here in Mexico…I had the incredible opportunity to travel through Central America for 2 months at the beginning of this year and had the experience of a lifetime..
    Keep up your passion because some of us are living your life vicariously….I enjoy your blog to the Max…
    Patti thecrazychef Somewhere in Mexico

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  5. It is always tough to re-acclimate to life in your home country after adventures somewhere else. The best cure for this is to take off again. You have a good plan.

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  6. This actually brought a few tears to my eyes. I felt exactly the same way when I returned to Toronto for a bit after spending 4 1/2 months in Mexico. I felt like I didn’t fit in anymore or that something in me had changed during my short time living in a culture that (to me) felt more real on many levels. While I didn’t return to Mexico I did go back exploring the world to find other places where life felt that vivid.

    I don’t think my family really understood the reverse culture shock I was experiencing and took it for a dislike of Canada, which really is not the case. I just prefer a place similar to how you describe South America, somewhere where family and friends are top priority, where people are more relaxed and will take time to really experience and enjoy life and it’s little joys like street performances.

    It’s great that you’re following your heart, I really think that is the most important thing in life. So go enjoy it, experience it and blog about it so we can get glimpses into that world. 😉

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  7. I really related to what you wrote. Each time I travel it really brings home what is actually important to me and my life. Coming home and seeing my values so different from everything around me is tough. I always get sucked back in more than I would like to, but end up further away each time. At some point this may just lead to not coming back. Thanks for telling your side of the story.

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  8. I know exactly what you mean here. I’ve come to the decision that London, a city which I love and which has been my home for almost all my life won’t be our home any more. I don’t think it’s self-indulgent to find a home elsewhere. People have been doing it for as long as folk have been travelling, and the barriers to mobility now are so much lower… Good luck.

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  9. That’s an all too familiar process you’ve gone through and the result (leaving once again) is exactly how I handled the situation as well. And I think what struck me most about this post is that you didn’t write a specific list of what you missed about South America because in the end, the source of that reverse culture shock can often be undetectable. It’s just there and something doesn’t feel right.

    I’ll be following along for sure!

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  10. Thanks so much for your comments and encouragement everyone… I’m looking forward to this next step in my life… And just as a hint to the future. Look for this page to become a little bit more educationally geared in the near future 😉

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  11. Buddy, love your articles man sometimes i wish i had the courage to venture off to France and live there or even Hong Kong i have visited these places and always wondered what my life would be like living over there.

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    • Just do it Ted… or come live with me in South America, I need a roomate!

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  12. As a canadian who’s lived in Mexico for the last 14 years, I could totally relate to your post. In fact, I had goosebumps all the way through. I live with a constant dilemna of loving my country of origin, missing my family and feeling completely seduced by the latin culture. This is not to say that I don’t have my ‘I’m going crazy in Mexico’ days but overall, I am happy here. So much, that I recently wrote this post to show others (or remind them) how little details here can be so charming. Here’s my ’30 things I love about Mexico’ list. Perhaps you’ll recognize some of the same things you fell in love with in South America:

    http://www.mexicoboutiquehotels.com/wordpress/2010/10/30-things-i-love-about-mexico/

    And, thanks for posting. It’s comforting to know others feel the same way…

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