I've already talked about this a little bit before (http://calebinchina.blogspot.com/2010/07/give-me-ten-minutes.html) but I'd like to go back and expound on the culture shock phenomenon as I have experienced it.
When people ask me how it is to be back in America I usually say something like "I'm eating hamburgers and speaking English! Not bad, not bad at all!" That's true. I don't really struggle coming back and seeing America because truthfully I'm not gone that long and China is becoming very modern, very quickly. Some things strike me as strange at times when I come home: most recently when I walked into Home Depot the word, "Opulence" hopped out of my mouth and my brother was a little confused about what I was talking about. That just hit me in the face because people don't have the kind of money you need to spend on making a house beautiful.
What bothers me the most is the attention that I get in China. First, there is constant attention. That's not normal. Some personality types hardly even notice it. Mine does. It has occurred to me that no matter how used to China I am, China will never be used to me. Every time I walk to class I get stares and regularly people blurt out something in English to see if they can get some kind of reaction out of me. It can be funny and doesn't bother me 90% of the time but eventually it gets to you.
Second, is the intensity of the attention. Caucasians are somewhat like celebrities in China. I was never bothered by this extra attention for about a year and a half. Let's face it, I like being noticed, fussed over, and told that I'm handsome by girls I don't know! Whenever a foreigner does something - sings a song or tells a joke - it receives a reaction that is extremely disproportionate to the excellence of the performance, injected with a fair amount of swooning. It's kind of fun but you can't trust it. Eventually it feels similar to being treated like a three-year-old and over time it makes the people reacting this way seem entirely insincere and to some degree, undesirable as potential friends.
Over the past two or three years I have found myself closing off to people in a way that I never had before. As a way of coping with the transient nature of a campus community that always changes and having very few close friends I have become less and less interested in meeting new people. Sometimes I will just be indifferent when meeting people in hopes that they won't really want to hang out. I'm going to meet and invest in at least 200 new students every year anyway. Why punish myself, right? That's not the way I want to treat people. That's not the way I want to be. I hope to find some friends that I can really connect with during my next year in the USA and start to heal this ugly side of myself.