Tag Archives: culture shock

Disconnection, or how to lose touch with reality

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One morning, you wake up in hazy Kuala Lumpur, walk slowly on your balcony and gaze at the Petronas Tower in the distance, observe the Chinese uncle doing his exercises in the sunrise light, smile at the kids in uniform waiting for their morning bus. One morning, you are living your life in Malaysia and it is exactly at it should be.

And the next thing you know, a very few hours later, you are staring at a signboard, written in your own language, wondering why you can’t understand where the train station is. How do foreigners even manage to find their way here is a constant mystery to you…

 I am back in France and, for a while, I lost touch with who I was, where I was, what I was doing. I didn’t know what reality was. It felt both exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. The huge cut in your life, extending over the span of less than a day time, puts you in an emotional limbo. How could you have been talking to friends in Malay less than 16 hours ago, hugging people at a mamak place only last night… and now you are where 80% of your life memories come from? It feels real and it feels wrong. It feels as if all Asia is a dream you are waking up from. You know life in Malaysia is real, and yet you doubt it. It is just… not here.

We all dream to live many lives. You want to be a professional footballer, a constant traveler, a successful businessman, good at photography, this or that. But you know you can have only one life, and you resign yourself to it.

I do have two lives. And when I jump into one, the other one feels so much at odds, as if I had just stopped watching a movie where I had identified myself with a character.

I live in Malaysia. I am a translator, a volunteer, a motorbike rider, a mamak dweller, an advice dispenser, a lover of my friends, a language addict, a discover of religions & cultures.

And I live in France. I am the proud daughter of Brittany, an ex-biology student without a job, a forever gypsy that doesn’t fit in society, a critic of my own people, a smile that isn’t understood, a Buddhist animist that marvels at old-stones churches, a forest hiker, a wild-beaches lover, a friend who doesn’t know where her friends disappeared, and an oddity her family often hardly understands.

I am, I am, I am… What am I?

What if we didn’t actually need the answer to this question?


I have been fighting this weirdest feeling of duality and unreality since I last glanced at those 2 familiar faces in the airport. For as long as the “jump” lasted, I felt I was nobody. I knew I was going back to France, but that was mental knowledge. My emotions, my intuition were just plain screwed up. I kept on half expecting something to happen, because “being back in France” was so out-of-touch with my life that I couldn’t visualize it. I knew the plane was not going to suddenly turn around and go back to Kuala Lumpur and, yet, I half expected it.

Weirdest feeling ever.

It is only when I met my aunt that I reconnected with reality. A hug to my cousin, a kiss to those familiar faces, and I was back into normality.

This is where I realize that my reality lives with the people that surround me. “France” is an abstraction that I can’t connect with, that I don’t own. Belonging to my family, yes, this I can comprehend. Between my 2 friends smiles at KLIA and the warmth of my aunt embrace, I had been in limbo.

Now I am home again.

True, it still feels weird but I expect it to disappear tomorrow, when I wake up & go to bed in the same house, surrounded by the same people. Feeling the spirit of Penn-ar-Bed (“Beginning of the world”, the Breton name of my county) and the smell of the ocean in the air. Yes, I will be home.


I have to say it though. In those 5 years of living abroad & coming back to France, never have I felt this feeling of disconnection that strongly. It totally swept me away and turned me upside down, made me float in disbelief at the confusion of my thoughts.

What made this time different from the others? Probably because KL truly feels home, in the intensity of my sense of belonging there. My life there is strong, and that’s why it clashed so much with my old life in France. Two strongly rooted lives in my little self. The transition was out of this world…

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