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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Re-entry: The view from abroad

    There are plenty of illnesses lurking in that dark, unfocused section of The Modern World that lies outside of the United States of America – I was vaccinated for a handful of them and lived in fear of the rest – but far and beyond, the worst of the lot is that sickness that waits for you just beyond passport control in your repatriating airport: pseudo-culture-shock syndrome.

    I saw this first on Facebook, watching the ranks of fellow American University in Cairo study-abroad students update their status after the airplane’s wheels hit American tarmac. Suddenly, silly little quirks about life in Cairo that provided us all an occasional hearty laugh become intellectual impediments to re-entry.

    It’s clockwork: Without exception, common, acceptable facts about life in America that were not befuddling or odd a mere four to nine months ago become “”foreign”” and “”difficult.””

    One example is change. In Cairo, the soft currency economy leads to an epidemic lack of small notes, which means that one- and five-pound bills are in high demand. The average person quickly adapts; wallets become storehouses of ones and fives, and accordingly the problem is solved.

    Here in America, the Fed prints enough small bills that I don’t run much chance of being denied a purchase at Target because all I’ve got is a twenty. For the proud student recently returned from Cairo, this is ample opportunity to flaunt the privilege and status afforded by contact with Cairo’s change scarcity.

    Self-aware commentary about the strange glut of monetary notes in America doesn’t, in my opinion, reflect any actual surprise – can’t they think back half a year to Life Before Traveling? What it does reflect, as far as I can tell, is a desire to spread to as many people as possible that Cairo is a foreign, crazy place without small bills, and they had the honor of tapping into that world.

    But can I blame anyone for this behavior? Can I lump myself with the non-offenders, casually laughing at our adversaries’ veritable culture-shock malingering? Do I have the right to cringe when I hear exclamations of stunned disbelief at the width of American eight-lane streets, surely lost to study abroad-related amnesia?

    My own inability to recognize pseudo-culture-shock syndrome in myself is probably enough to answer this question. It’s not something that can be self-diagnosed. I saw glimmers of the condition last week in a low-level math class I’m taking for the goal of graduation. One student seemed to be completely lost when our foreign-born teacher wrote a number in the high thousands with a period instead of a comma. Somewhere in there, while evaluating my pencil for potential eye-gouging properties, I made a sarcastic, biting remark about how obvious it was that in other countries people write big numbers with full stops instead of commas. Had I heard this from the mouth of another, would I be condescendingly judging their more-well-traveled-than-thou attitude? Another glimpse of my own failings became apparent when I casually mentioned a great meal I had in a Hindu-owned restaurant in Zambia to a fellow on a domestic plane route, and he had the good sense to call me on my haughty internationalism (“”Ohhhh, so well traveled are you, eh?!””).

    So maybe I suffer from pseudo-culture-shock syndrome as chronically as the next guy (did I remember in this piece to casually, subtly mention my heroic ascent of the fifth-tallest peak on the African continent?). Maybe it’s not a syndrome at all; maybe it’s worldliness. Surely it would be a better America if we could all exchange unimpressively cool recommendations for burger joints in Stellenbosch or good cocktails on Zanzibar.

    Maybe the few lucky enough to see the rest of the world wouldn’t have to garner attention by feigning shock at the American customs they grew up with if everyone had spent a day in rural Mexico or a good hour in the travel section of the bookstore.

    Amanda Propst is a senior majoring in classics, linguistics and Near Eastern studies. She spent her junior year studying in Egypt.

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