What strategies support reintegration after returning to the US?
January 13, 2022 5:04 PM   Subscribe

We're recently returned to California, from Scotland. Going from a (sorta functional) welfare state to a (very much not functional, heavily-armed) nation in a state in a full-blown housing crisis is jarring and disorienting, and the upsides of being closer to friends and family are covid-constrained, though we are beginning to reconnect. It's easy to feel quite alone even though we have a decent extended network in principle. Can readers recommend strategies (cognitive, social, or practical) for returning expats coming to grips with the US again in useful and sustaining ways, especially in this period?
posted by SandCounty to Society & Culture (12 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
It might be useful if you could briefly describe why you came back.
posted by aramaic at 5:08 PM on January 13 [6 favorites]

Do some reading about reverse culture shock.

When I moved back to the US after a stint abroad, it wasn't the big, obvious stuff that alarmed and disoriented me.

It was workaday things, like going to the grocery store and seeing dozens of brands of cereal. I'd get overwhelmed and leave.
posted by champers at 5:15 PM on January 13 [12 favorites]

I've also just moved from a low cost of living to a high cost of living area. Here are my thoughts:

1. Usually, places that are high cost of living have a TON of reasons for being so. Density of people means more jobs, more public transit, more arts, more museums, more restaurants, and just... more stuff. Now is ABSOLUTELY the time to take advantage of that. In your new community, you should visit libraries! Visit museums and art museums. Visit the beaches, and beauty, and go to new restaurants. Try to imagine a bright-eyed teen wanting to move to the big city - what would their lives look like? Can you afford a few late-night dates together in a skyrise cafe?

2. Social - this will really depend on your own Covid restrictions. There's a range here, but most people that have done the research generally agree that outdoor activities are very safe. And, in california, there should be an absolute bevy of ways to connect with others outdoors. You can now be the outdoor activity person - hikes, walks, yoga, mountain biking, golf carting, golfing, pickleball playing, tennis playing, picnic and bbq hosting person. I myself have had lots of picnics and hikes and feel very closely connected to my community through outdoor activities.

3. Cognitive - The best way I've gone through isolations or just... feeling isolated is making a plan for it to be better (in April, if cases are under XX/100K, we are going to join these sports and these clubs. For now, lets do a workout to prepare for that moment.). Otherwise, you kind of wait for your situation to change for you, which isn't ideal. And of course your plan can change, but it's still a much more optimistic feeling.

4. Show up. The biggest way to feel connected to a community / people is to show up. Show up even if this meetup is on a work night, or a bit further than you'd like to go, or even if you have a headache. Other people show up too. It can be hard to remember what committing to making friends is like as we get old. But once you find something you like to do with other people, and then show up in a regular routine, you'll feel 100% more connected.
posted by bbqturtle at 5:18 PM on January 13 [4 favorites]

The upside is that you're in California. It seems counter-intuitive because it's not necessarily social, but a safe thing you can do as often as you're able is to go visit one of our amazeballs state and national parks and forests. You will likely at the very least have brief contact with a park employee, who are generally amazing people who truly care about the jobs they do, and even if only at a distance you will see other people out enjoying this benefit of living in this state and country. And even on a local level, municipal outdoor spaces are often hidden gems and you can certainly do some careful picnicking and walks/hiking. (Also: generally not butt-ass cold and raining sideways right now.) Check local Facebook and Audobon groups to find local birding, plant/herb, and history walks you can do.

Depending on the vulnerability/risk levels of the people you know, you may need to find online ways to connect - watch parties, trivia nights, cocktail hours over zoom. Do it with your nearby friends in the same time zone, you will feel more connected just for spending more time together.

If you can, maybe sign up for a plant or meat CSA based out of California, so you can connect to some localish agriculture.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:25 PM on January 13 [2 favorites]

Oh boy - reverse culture shock is the worst because you're fighting your brain the whole time! Americans are -loud-, and I'd never noticed until coming back.

Read about reverse culture shock, see a therapist (no lie), try to keep the things you liked from your old life and do similar things in CA. Read press intended for tourists coming to the US - you may find them as reassuring as I did.

It passes.
posted by esoteric things at 6:38 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]

This is the first time I've heard of California as heavily armed, but maybe it's because I'm living urban these days.
posted by small_ruminant at 9:17 PM on January 13

Californian here. I imagine it must be jarring. I don’t have many suggestions on how to connect with your family and old friends, but I’d start to connect to some of California’s natural beauty. Would you have time to hike, visit beaches, take a road trip? Plan a trip to Yosemite, Big Sur or Joshua Tree? Do you have a farmers market you can go to on a regular basis? Or like bbqturtle said, visit museums, go out for Mexican, Chinese, Vietnamese food (so much here to explore), visit coffee shops. There’s so much love here. Also, a thought: is it possible that you’ve been reading or watching a lot of news? I’d take a bit of a break or curate your newsfeed a little more?
posted by biscuits at 11:13 PM on January 13

Did you go native in Scotland? Did you shop at the food warehouse or did you end to at JL Gills'? I'm asking because it's typical of the American experience that Americans have a hard time coping overseas because they cannot reframe from the tourist imagination. When they come home, they cannot unplug from this mindset, either. Go native, do what the natives do. Blend in, don't be afraid of having an accent.
posted by parmanparman at 1:41 AM on January 14 [1 favorite]

Different country pair, but on returning to the UK from elsewhere, I concentrated on the things I liked about home and gave myself time to get used again to the ones I wasn't so keen on.

Your list will be different, but things I liked about home included the flora and fauna, the countryside itself, the variety of architecture, the bookshops and museums, the cafes, having easy access to London, and the way that at long last, my instincts were actually *correct* again when it came to e.g. interactions with shop assistants or avoiding bumping into people on the pavement. Also, British food - there were certain things I'd missed, or gone out of my way to get hold of, and now all I had to do was walk into a shop and just... buy it. It took a while to start taking that for granted again.

I'll also second biscuits - try to stay away from the news for a bit. Its tendency to skew negative really isn't helpful at a time when you need reasons to be happy you're home (at least, I found it helped me feel better about being back when I stopped reading the papers for a while after the move).
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 3:48 AM on January 14 [1 favorite]

This is the first time I've heard of California as heavily armed, but maybe it's because I'm living urban these days.

According to this, California has the second highest total number of guns (after Texas), though obviously its per-capita gun ownership is lower. And even a US state that is less gun-centric than, say, Wyoming is overflowing with guns compared to somewhere like Scotland where they are highly restricted and regulated.

The suggestions above about "reverse culture shock" are what I was going to say. It's real, and just like it takes time to adjust to a foreign culture, it takes time (maybe more time) to readjust after you have been away. And you do want to readjust -- you don't want to be the person who is constantly telling people about how X Y or Z is better in the place you were living and never feeling like you have settled.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:19 AM on January 14 [1 favorite]

I am a native Californian who spent nearly a decade In sweden, move back to California, and then return to Sweden after nearly a decade. I had a really close network of friends before the first move. But when I returned, all of those friends had rewoven their lives without me. When I had visited from Sweden, I saw those friends and they were loving and delightful. I did not realize until I moved back full-time that I would never get back the close and loving relationships I had with them before my initial move. That space had been filled by other people or other activities. After all, I was just one friend among many for the people I cared about. Whereas I had lost my entire tribe.

That’s not entirely fair to say and it may not even be true. But that’s very much how it felt. I was close with these people and saw them frequently before the move, and nearly a decade later of course our lives were very different. I never really got over that. It’s not why I returned to Sweden, but it’s a loss I continue to grieve. In part, I suppose, because I’ve never been able to replace that group of friends in my new home country.

The being-lonely thing is not your imagination. Do figure out ways of reaching out to your network but also look for new friends. Maybe you are suffering from reverse culture shock but honestly, I don’t think so. Just do the best you can with what you have where you are. That’s all any of us can do. Best of luck to you!
posted by Bella Donna at 2:36 PM on January 14 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: I just want to thank everyone for these deeply thoughtful answers -- I found them genuinely useful!
posted by SandCounty at 9:45 AM on January 19 [1 favorite]

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