You can‘t go home again said Thomas Wolf in his famous novel, and many have found this to be true, especially if you have left your land of birth and gone to live in a foreign country. Living in another country can be a broadening and enlightening experience. You leave home and become a different person. But, coming home can be more difficult than the original culture shock you felt when moving to a foreign culture. According to Solange and Fernando Scorsetto, two Brazilians who lived and studied in Princeton, New Jersey, USA for five years, and then returned to Brazil last year, you can go home again, but it isn‘t easy. It takes some adjustment, and you can suffer from “Reverse Culture Shock”
Now, after they had been back in Brazil for a year, I wanted to catch up with them, and see how they were doing, if they were fully adjusted to their new lives in Brazil, and if they had suffered any effects of reverse culture shock.
I found Solange in her beautiful new apartment in São Paulo, and asked her how difficult it was to begin life anew in Brazil after having lived in the USA for 5 years.
“It was difficult, as we had gotten used to the American lifestyle. We had made good friends who had become like family to us, and we were used to speaking English all the time. Some of the things that had seemed natural to us before we left Brazil now seemed strange. We were delighted to see our family and old friends again, but it took a while to really fit in to the Brazilian culture again.”
When they first arrived back in Brazil, it seemed strange to hear everyone speaking Portuguese all the time. They would go into shops and restaurants in São Paulo and automatically start speaking English. When they got funny looks in return, they realized they had to switch into Portuguese. “We miss the English language. Although we use English in our jobs, we are not surrounded with it all the time like we were in the USA. When we first arrived back in Brazil, we had to remember not to speak English all the time!”, said Fernando.
Solange forgot how to drive a manual car because she had been driving an automatic one, as most Americans do, for the past 5 years. So, she had to look for a more expensive and less fuel efficient automatic car in Brazil.
They missed the cold winters. “We missed the snow a lot. Our Brazilian friends thought we were crazy when we started longing for the freezing cold winters in Princeton, but we came to love the cold winters in Princeton . We learned to ski and would often spend winter weekends on the ski slopes a few hours north of Princeton”, Solange remembered.
The unique black squirrels of Princeton held a fascination for Solange and Fernando. One even adopted them, and they gave it a name and thought of it as a pet. “Filomena was the cutest and friendliest squirrel we ever saw. We‘d find her waiting in front of our door for us when we came home from classes. We wished we could have taken her on the plane with us to Brazil. We miss her a lot”, said Solange.
There are also things they didn‘t miss like… American food, being without a maid, and the US president, George Bush! “We didn‘t like or agree with many of George Bush‘s policies, and we even campaigned for one of his rivals in the presidential elections of 2004”, remembered Solange.
What is life like in Brazil now? “We both have good jobs. I am an economist at a consulting company here in São Paulo. Fernando is a professor of economics at a well known university, we are well adjusted to Brazil and love our life here now, although we will always consider the USA a second home. And best of all, a new baby is on the way”, said a happy Solange.
Coming back was an ambivalent experience. They were happy to be returning to their own culture, to their family and friends, but it was disorienting too because they felt different as people after their experience in the USA. They had a broader perspective on their own country and the world and could see things differently from some of their compatriots.
So, can you go home again? According to Solange and Fernando “You can go home again, but the home you go home to will have changed as much as you have”.