The Best of Reverse Culture Shock

Traveling from Ometepe Island, Nicaragua and landing in Las Vegas, Nevada was surreal.  We knew to expect a bizarre reverse culture shock which I can only describe like the scene out of a Crocodile Dundee movie. Yet, there is something to be said about embracing the shock when returning to a place that one used to call home.

Articles have been written about the effects of reverse culture shock and ways to combat the adverse effects. But, I am of the persuasion that it is better to embrace it, than fight it and below are my reasons why….

1. The euphoria of feeling out-of-place in your own culture.

Las Vegas is not a city that anyone feels “in place” in our culture. It is the land of excess, overwhelming choices, immigrants, and a city that never sleeps.

When I asked our taxi driver at the airport where he was from he said, “Guess. I will give you a hint. It is where coffee was first produced.”
I guessed correctly on the second try, which really impressed our taxi driver. “Ethiopia!”
I think I created a warm, fast-paced relationship with our Ethiopian taxi driver after that because for the rest of the ride, he told me all about his country, the family he left, and how proud he was that he could provide for them.

Returning home gives me another opportunity to embrace and respect the diverse culture in the U.S. There was no better way to start our journey than the euphoric feeling of being out-of-place in our home country.


2. A new far-out perspective.

Living abroad certainly gives me a different perspective of the world. It is a perspective of simplicity wrapped in slow-paced tranquility. But, we do yearn for high-quality entertainment sometimes. Watching the monkeys swing from branch to branch will never compete with Cirque de Soleil.

This time in Las Vegas we got front row seats at Love, the Beatles extravaganza performed by Cirque de Soleil. It did not disappoint! Now, we have seen all the Las Vegas Cirque de Soleil shows, and I continue to have a difficult time deciding which show is my favorite.

IMG_18243. Savor sensory overload.

The most sensory overload we get on Ometepe Island is during the annual bullfight or a religious parade when the bombas explode. In Las Vegas we were bombarded with light shows, man-made dancing fountains, music blasting from the nightly Fremont Street Experience, slot machines dinging, the salty taste of Dirty Martinis at the Blackjack tables, and smells of grilled steak wafting through the streets. No sense was left untouched and we savored every minute of it.

IMG_18344. Give in to the abundance of choices.

We have limited choices on Ometepe Island for everything.  We frequent the same restaurants, the same pulperias, the same parades…which can get monotonous at times.  So, when we have an abundance of choices for entertainment, food, and restaurants…we go for it.

At first, it is a little overwhelming, but we relish the opportunity to explore all of our options and choices. And so many of our entertainment options in Las Vegas are free or cost very little.

IMG_18955. Enjoy the absurd and surreal.

We laughed a lot at the absurdity of Las Vegas. The active volcano. Concepcion, is in our backyard on Ometepe Island. Watching crowds awed by the eruption of a fake volcano tickled us. Sometimes, the best thing to do is to laugh at the craziness of a pseudo-world designed and manipulated for tourism.

IMG_18796. Indulge without moderation.

When in Rome….indulge.
We ate our way through the City of Excess. On Ometepe Island we eat fresh fruit, homegrown veggies, and drink lots of smoothies depending on the season for our fruit.
We walk, swim, and sweat a lot!

So, the temptation for high-calorie junk food was not ignored. We ate greasy burgers, decadent sweets, and juicy steaks. We figured that if we got to the point where we couldn’t walk, we could always rent motorized wheel chairs. Las Vegas rents everything!

There is a time and place for moderation, and Las Vegas isn’t the place!

IMG_19087. Knuckle under to the gravy train.

Las Vegas tricks and deceives you into thinking that you can make a lot of money for very little effort. It is the American Dream!  Capitalism at its finest…hedonistic, extreme, and
just like the rest of the United States but more so. It strokes and caresses with insatiable and inexhaustible desire. The spectacle of wealth reinforces consumption, excess, and waste 24/7.

Whereas on Ometepe Island, our neighbors live in dirt floor shacks on less than $1,000 a year. They are shrewd bargainers and traders without an understanding of the deceptions of capitalism. Life is real without any pretenses!

But, who doesn’t want to escape into a fantasy land occasionally? A place where “normal” behavior is temporarily suspended…where one feels consequence-free… where there is an intensification of selfishness and greed to levels that would never be permitted outside extraordinary circumstances. After all, what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.

IMG_19078. Take risks…gamble on life.

We are calculated risk takers. If we weren’t, we wouldn’t live abroad. If Las Vegas showed me anything about embracing reverse cultural shock, it is that gambling on life can be fun and exciting!

IMG_19219. Accept that you have changed and celebrate every minute of it.

The most important thing I learned from our trip to Las Vegas is that I have changed. I am no longer the person I once was. Living abroad has broadened my perspectives about life.

Reverse culture shock is real, but it doesn’t have to be depressing or fearful. In a way, any place that one adapts to becomes “home”. Embracing the changes in my home country enables me to see the United States through a sharper lens, both its strengths and its weaknesses. I realize that the United States is not always “right” or “best”. Yet, what country is?

Viva Las Vegas!
IMG_1831How do you handle reverse cultural shock when returning to your home country?

17 thoughts on “The Best of Reverse Culture Shock

  1. Gluttonous materialism plays a big part in what makes Vegas the city of excess. But, they have a powerful manipulative philosophy of gaming which seduces those who really can’t afford to gamble to go for the jackpot. It is really rather frightening how we can be manipulated and for what? Certainly we are not the big winners.

  2. I love this …”It is a perspective of simplicity wrapped in slow-paced tranquility.”… I’m so grateful for the new perspective my life here in Panama has given me, what a gift!

  3. Whoa! Vegas is the ultimate place for excess, shock and awe – a total sensory overload, especially when compared with the simplicity of Ometepe. So glad you had a terrific time indulging. 🙂 It’s hard to explain the concept of reverse culture shock to someone who hasn’t lived abroad and the feeling of being out-of-place and out-of-step mixed with the expected familiar. But I agree it’s fun to go a little wild at “home” and shop for favorite brands, peruse through endless choices (and perfect sizing!) and savor the variety of foods and entertainment. Anita

    • It was a total mind-bending experience leaving our little island and ending up in Vegas. You can’t get a better contrast than Vegas vs Ometepe Island. It is fun to go a little wild occasionally, but if we lived back in the states we would definitely gain lots of weight because of the amount of food offered on a plate…mounds of food. I felt kind of guilty not finishing it all, and I looked for street dogs to feed, but there weren’t any. 😦

  4. I could never live in Vegas either but it is a fun place to visit once in a while. I met one of my sisters there about four years ago and we had a blast running up and down the strip taking in all the free shows. All the lights are simply amazing. I can only wonder at the cost of that electric bill.

    I hope you weren’t sick on all the food you never eat. Sometimes too much of a good thing isn’t good.

    Regardless, I’d be taking in everything I had time for while I was there. Have a great trip!


    • Sunni, I asked how much the electric bill was every day. We stayed on Fremont Street and the doors to the casinos were always open and blasting cold air into the street. It was refreshing because the temperature was 112 degrees for the 4 days we were in Vegas.
      We are back on Ometepe and after 3 weeks in air-conditioned homes and hotels, we are having a difficult time getting adjusted to the heat again. But, my skin really loves this weather. The air-conditioning and hot water made me look like a lizard skinned woman. lol

      • Boy don’t I know about the lizard skin. LOL I live in the desert two hrs north of Vegas and I wish I had a lotion factory in my backyard. It’s hard not to use too much A/C but we always try to really watch it. You can only take so much of the triple digits without finding some relief.

  5. Yet another great post. I agree with your perspective. I always find it hard “going back”. Especially relating to others who have “remained”. As I have changed and challenged myself in ways that others can not understand. Sometimes it becomes exhausting explaining why I live where I do and other times my tongue is raw from biting back a response to the negative comments of living abroad. Also, It always amazes me how much food and the size of portions eaten (and wasted). Can’t believe I used to eat and throw away that much.

    On the up side, it is a treat to enjoy a nice glass of wine, while chowing down on the comfort foods from my homeland, appreciating my life and anticipating the return date to MY “home” 🙂
    P.S. Especially like the bit about the volcano. Amazing the things we take for granted. Mine is the price people pay for mangos.

    • Haha! I took a picture of the mangoes in the grocery store. If my neighbors knew how expensive mangoes were in the states, they would be figuring out a way to send them in suitcases.
      The first time we returned to the states after living on Ometepe Island for a year, I was so disappointed that no one wanted to hear our stories. Now, after countless trips back, I understand that they cannot relate to my stories and I accept that. Maybe that is one of the reasons I started writing a blog. I can tell my stories even if no one is listening. lol
      I guess I got tired of readjusting to all the negative things I saw in the states, so I decided to embrace everything, and it sure was more interesting and less frustrating. We did a lot of laughing at some of the things we saw this trip.

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