For long-term travelers, the restless truth-seekers, home is the touchstone, the well-worn rock that reminds us from where we came, and in what ways we have changed. But home, with all it contains, changes too; nothing stays the same. For those who are left behind there is that slower, more rooted development—river water reshaping a landscape. This subtlety is especially difficult for the traveler to grasp, because the sense of self has been remade so violently—primarily by staying constantly in the new and present experience—and this is set against the crystallized memory of the past. We can imagine no change as profound as our own metamorphosis. There is this initial illusion of the hero’s return, that familiar narrative, and then a loss of equilibrium when it becomes clear that there is no real touchstone by which to measure the self. There is only flawed memory. And so, for a while, even travelers at home are still traveling because they remain out of context. This is my best understanding of reverse culture shock.
As for the children of travelers, they exist outside of known narrative, within the schism that is the parents’ disequilibrium. As an American parent of young non-Japanese children raised in Japan and now living in Atlantic Canada, I keep trying to apply contexts I know and understand well: a childhood in Alaska, an adult becoming in Japan. But I have no precise experience by which to measure the experience of my children. In Japan, they were “other”—and this was the natural state; in Canada, they easily blend—and this is the new, foreign state. Every day, they are remade: a dam burst, a slow erosion. I feel that I am bearing witness to a process that is just outside my grasp. It is familiar, then it is not; familiar again, then again not. My view is through a camera lens that can’t quite focus.
In writing this I can see that there is another layer here that is really at the heart of it all: the reverse culture shock of simply being a parent. Having children is an almost-but-not-quite return to home, the time and place of our own childhood. That is the touchstone, that flawed memory of our personal narrative, a hero becoming. When the touchstone fails, children remake us violently, completely; because of them, we are often in the unique and present experience—a foreign country embodied in one new human life. Thus we parents are all travelers. Truth finds us wherever we are.