I never really thought that reverse culture shock could be a thing, until now. Instead of going right back to Pittsburgh, I am spending the next week and a half in my hometown of Grantville, Pennsylvania, population 3,500 where there are probably more cows and chickens than people:
This is certainly not Singapore or Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia:
Perhaps my readjustment into life in rural, Central PA is particularly difficult this time because of the East/West divide? I spent last summer interning in London and I didn’t find the readjustment nearly as difficult as my return from Singapore. Regardless of how difficult this readjustment has been, I have noticed three major differences over the last two days.
First, I have readjusted to the notion of connectivity here in Grantville. While I could have arranged to fly into Harrisburg International Airport (only about a half hour from my house), on a graduate student budget it wouldn’t have been the most economical decision. I also could have flown into Philadelphia (only about 2 hours away) but that would have been expensive and it would have meant transferring planes three times. So, I decided to fly out of JFK in New York City, about 2 1/2 or 3 hours away. I didn’t think this would be that far away until I realized how convenient
Changi Airport is in Singapore by taxi or the MRT. Even Kuala Lumpur International Airport is accessible by train. There really was no other option except for my parents to drive me to JFK, making for an even longer commute.
Second, there is no public transportation in Grantville. The closest public transit system is in nearby Harrisburg (Capital Area Transit) about 15 miles away. In Grantville, I have no other option than to hop in my car and drive about 15-20 minutes to the grocery store. This makes me appreciate Singapore’s expansive and efficient public transport system all the more, even if some commutes take 30-40 minutes.
Finally, the readjustment out of academia has probably been the hardest for me. While my dad is a Professor at Lebanon Valley College, Grantville is a far cry from the University of Pittsburgh and the National University of Singapore. I don’t want it to sound like there aren’t smart, motivated people in Grantville (because there certainly are, my parents are proof) but there is a lack of value for education that has become especially apparent to me over the last three days. I don’t know why this didn’t hit me until now, but it has. After talking with Dr. Bunnell and Dr. Gillen, Geography Professors at NUS, this is so unlike Singapore where education is highly valued and often results in an incredibly competitive environment.
Last night, I went to a community dinner at my church and a member of my church told me how they just didn’t understand the importance of studying in Singapore. The reaction I received from this particular member was something like, “What did you get in Singapore that Grantville couldn’t give you?” Therefore, over the past few days I have had to continually remind myself that Grantville is just a different place with a small town population who just may not understand the importance of or value in international travel.
With all that said, I am extremely grateful for the last two weeks in Southeast Asia! I had the opportunity to improve my field research skills and explore areas of the world of which are vastly different from Grantville, Pennsylvania. As much as I love spending time with my parents, I am looking forward to next Sunday when I can head back to Pittsburgh. Although Pittsburgh is certainly a different type of urban, it is urban nonetheless and it doesn’t take me long to itch for a city again!