“While you were in Papua New Guinea, did you miss the announcement that Pluto is not a planet?”
Evidently, yes. Living in Papua New Guinea for three years did mean that it wasn’t as easy to keep up with normal news and happenings in the US and California. I don’t think we are always cognizant of the changes that happen gradually in our immediate world. But having been away, the things that have happened gradually for everyone else happen instantaneously for me. These changes in the world that I use to think I knew is one of the reasons for reverse culture shock. And I can’t always be prepared or anticipate what I’m going to have missed.
For the most part I don’t think I missed any big announcements. In November 2008, I was in the village when Obama was elected president and I found out because my host brother brought me the paper with the news headlines. Everyone in the small village outside of Madang, Papua New Guinea were just excited to hear who was elected into the American presidency. June 25th, 2009 Michael Jackson died and I was in Ukarumpa, in the Eastern Highlands. But because of internet access and phone connections, we all heard the news fairly quickly. And of course I heard about the royal wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton on April 29th, 2011 but mostly because of the British contingency living in Ukarumpa at the time. These are obviously not an all inclusive sample of the most important things that happened while I was in PNG but they are the ones I could think of right now. I’m sure there were other major things but even if I didn’t find out right away, I heard them eventually.
However, there are things that I did miss and some I am sure that I still don’t know about. Coming back I realized right away that I had missed the rise of the smartphone. I had also missed the spread of Redbox and the demise of Borders. I also missed lots of movies and TV shows which gained and lost popularity over the last three years. In this category I also realize that some shows I had access to in PNG on DVD and therefore thought were mainstream and popular, were only popular in my small expat world and nowhere else. Some of these things aren’t super important for everyday life but they still impact me if only in small ways. Sometimes this makes me feel like a complete outsider because other people make assumptions about my general knowledge. But for the most part living in a village in Papua New Guinea is a pretty good, generally acceptable excuse.
If you had asked me before Friday night how many planets there are, I would have answered 9. But evidently while I was out of the country scientists gained more information and decided that Pluto is not a planet. I still don’t understand all the ins and outs of why this decision was made but it’s official for now. And so I looked this up on Wikipedia and evidently this actually happened in 2006 which wasn’t while I was in PNG but I was in Ghana, Africa and so I still have an excuse to have missed this little solar system update.
All this to say if you have family or friends who have lived abroad for any length of time, don’t assume that they have kept up with normal American politics and general news. Although the world is usually more in tune with American politics and popular culture than with other countries, your family and friends may actually be learning more about what is happening in the political system and culture of their host country than in America. And that’s ok.
For me I just have to be willing to ask questions and sometimes admit when I have no idea what people are talking about. And for now I can just be happy that I finally know how many planets there are and at least until November I know who the president is.