I returned to Kansas almost two months ago and have been surprised by how quickly I am adapting to life here. I have been surprised by the ease with which I have shifted gears. Everyone has been so kind here. They say, "You must be dealing with such intense culture shock after a year in Bangladesh." My blunt response to these sympathies takes me back to third grade when folks would tell me, "It's not your fault your parents are divorcing." I would respond, "I know it's not my fault! Why do you keep saying that to me?"
Yes, I am dealing with some degree of adjustment issues; but it's not Bangladesh itself that has me grasping to analyze and define my experience. I felt significantly more culture shock after returning to the United States after living in Spain and Italy and a two month stint in Guatemala. I think this reaction (or lack thereof) has a lot to do with the fact that I did not want to come home from those other places. After a year at the Asian University for Women in Bangladesh, however, I was physically, emotionally, and mentally prepared to return home.
No, it's not American excess or the ease of living and getting around that has me feeling unstable. I don't find myself berating myself or others for eating fast food, driving big cars, or being uninformed. Instead, I have turned my energies toward appreciating my freedoms and privileges more than ever. Sure, I don't like giving the government a lot of my money, but I do appreciate having access to water I can drink, roads I can drive on, sewers that are covered, reliable mail service, and a clean, safe health clinic I can go to while I'm waiting to get a job. For the most part, as an American woman, I can go to school where I want, wear what I want, say what I want, work where I want, get married/be single/date if I want. I am privy to possibilities that are very different from what the majority of university students, former colleagues, and friends in Bangladesh--men and women--are allowed. Forgive me if this smacks of being overly optimistic or idealistic--I do realize that America has it's problems and it's not a utopia. But I must say that right now, I feel sincerely blessed to be an American woman in America.
As you can see, I'm still trying to get my bearings and process an intense year at a start-up university in a third world country. This process has given me a better perspective on my life as a young female American worker. I better understand the purpose of hierarchy, governance, management, due process, and checks and balances. I see how creativity and entrepreneurial skills flourish in the right environment. I see clearly how top-down organizational culture can cripple effort, decision making, and responsibility. I feel like my time at AUW was a crash course in management, infrastructure, and capacity building.
From my comfortable home in Kansas, I better appreciate the power of shared experiences, friendship, laughter, patience, and optimism that surrounded me in Bangladesh. I'm truly thankful to those who keep a noble vision and mission close to their hearts. Onek dhonnobad to my dear friends, co-workers, and believers in Bangladesh and beyond.
Feel free to email me if you have questions about living Bangladesh and/or working at the Asian University for Women: firstname.lastname@example.org