It seems that the information boom in the past decade or so has changed nearly every aspect of our lives in one way or another, and I’d think that ‘returning home from abroad’ is another major example. Just think, as of about 15 years ago it was common for people living or traveling overseas to send postcards or ‘air mail’ to let people know what they were doing. The only way to keep up with things back home was to buy a copy of USA Today or the International Herald Tribune, but even then you’d only get a few paragraphs on most topics, if anything at all.
What’s making me think about this is an article on CNNgo that claims to be the ultimate checklist for returning US expats. As an American living abroad I found the idea interesting, and the article itself is actually very detailed and well done, but it also reminded me of how dramatically things have changed in the past few years especially.
Always connected to friends
I’ve lived in quite a few different parts of the United States, and now quite a few different parts of the world, but one thing that stays with me these days is a daily connection to any friends, at least to the degree I want it. Thanks to Facebook, Twitter, and Skype chats and calls, I know that my friend in Newport Beach, California discovered a new steak restaurant that he likes just yesterday.
Of course, email has been ubiquitous for most of us for even longer, and I remember composing long trip updates to send to a long list of friends when I was away for more than two weeks at a time, but now there is no need for that since anyone who cares at all can hear about any of it almost as it’s happening.
Whether this connectedness is a good or bad thing is another question, but the fact is that it’s here if we want it. I suppose if you are an expat seeking to unplug from your former life then it would be easy enough to do that, but if you want to stay connected that is just as easy.
One world, it seems
The ultimate checklist article discusses many different things, a few of which are useful to people specifically moving back to the US for the first time, but most of it is written more for people who’ve been completely out of touch with the United States for years, or for people who’ve just come out of a coma. Again, this reminds me that we are all connected these days in ways that were impossible only 10 years or so ago.
One example is entertainment. In the 1990s when I returned from a 1-month trip abroad I’d either missed everything or maybe I set my VCR to record a few episodes of my very favorite shows. Now, literally all my expat friends here download TV shows (usually the day after they were first broadcast) and they watch them whenever they want.
With movies and books it’s the same thing. Everyone who reads a lot owns a Kindle and a subscription to Amazon, and most movie buffs here have seen most of the Best Picture nominees that they are interested in already, even though there isn’t a cinema within 50 miles of here.
When it comes to news and pop culture, it’s actually a bit of a relief to be living outside of the political echo chamber during an election year in the US, but if you want you can follow everything in real time.
The point is, the “reverse culture shock” of decades past is probably not much of a factor anymore. Personally, I’m looking forward to trying one of those KFC sandwiches where chicken patties take place of the bread, if they are still being served when I get back. Otherwise, it feels like I’ll be able to just slip into the country without feeling like I’m even a little out of touch.