Reverse Culture Shock

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Of all the posts people visit, and of all the questions people ask me via the Contact form, the most common topic travellers want to discuss is this:


REVERSE CULTURE SHOCK

It's an awful feeling to have, and it's one that is nearly impossible to discuss with someone who's never experienced it. It will usually hit you when you return home from an extended time abroad, especially if you've lived and worked in another country, but it can even happen after a short trip. Some of the signs of reverse culture shock include:
  • You're not really interested in catching up with your old friends, and if you do, you feel like you don't have so much in common with them any more.
  • Nobody wants to hear about your experiences but you'd really love to tell them.
  • You find it hard to accept some of the ways people do things at home, and you find yourself questioning habits and customs that have been a part of your life for a long time.
  • You wish you were back on your trip or living abroad, and you spend a lot of time keeping in touch with the people you met during that experience.
  • You might even start to feel depressed and anxious - and if you do, please seek counselling.
Obviously, it's unlikely to go down well if you start complaining to your family and friends around you that you wish you weren't home - that's what can make it hard to deal with. Should you just (like me below) put on a happy face?


There are some strategies you can use to deal with reverse culture shock, so see if some of the following might help you:
  • Celebrate your experiences by cooking foods from different cultures, by watching movies and reading books from the countries you lived in or visited, and by displaying some photos somewhere you'll see them regularly.
  • Keep in touch with the people you met abroad - it's much easier these days, but even if they are not regular emailers, make the effort to send a snail mail letter.
  • Plan some short trips from your hometown and rediscover places you haven't visited for years - "play traveller" at home.
  • Find a way to make another trip abroad - even if it won't be for some time - and wallow in the delight of planning it. Alternatively, if a friend is about to travel somewhere, offer to give them whatever help they're happy to accept.
  • Take a course that keeps you in touch with other cultures - learn a language, or find a cooking class for a cuisine you love to eat.
Reverse culture shock will pass, but it can literally take years - especially if you don't have the chance to chat about it. So do feel free to leave a comment below so you can chat with some fellow travelers who know what you've experienced.

Reverse Culture Shock Resources:

22 comments:

  1. This is so true. I experienced reverse culture shock when I got back after studying in the UK. I can totally relate to this post. Great blog!!! :) And an absolutely recommended post!!! :)

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  2. Ooooh I remember this, though I never called it "Reverse Culture Shock" - it was more just "I wanna go back" (said inwardly of course). I remember returning from an amazing stint away with not so much as a "Well how was it?" from disinteretsed friends & feeling utterly dejected no one wanted to know about my life changing travels. All I got was a "but you missed the best party!" Needless to say, I couldn't wait to flee the roost, the big wide world doesn't compete with a party...

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  3. Oh, yes, Anon - "missed the best party" just doesn't cut it for me either!!

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  4. This is very reassuring, but in a bit of a backwards way! I just recently moved to the Kurdish region of Iraq for a job and am still settling in. I almost envy those who have dealt with reverse culture shock because it means they grew comfortable and settled in an entirely new culture, despite all the differences or seeming inconveniences. As I embark on this journey of professional and personal growth, I only hope I can become as well settled as to feel out of place when I return home. I feel like you know that how you've grown- when things that were normal suddenly become questions.

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    1. Late reply to anonymous from someone returning to Aus after 20 years away including time spent in border regions in Asia and Africa and even a brief mission to Iraq and it's quite amazing North. I've done some of the back ends of the earth for work, and some places perceived to be glamourous, and in darkest (and sometimes most dangerous) hours it all came back to a strong sense of self no matter where that sense comes from - your country of origin, your family, your own colouring in of yourself - know who you are, what you want and to where you must propel yourself forward. At the same time, look out for every kernel of good or beauty no matter how overwhelming that urge to escape a new place might be - and Iraq has may of these aspects. Not always easy if your job becomes 24/7 as it does in the field, but try and create your own little part of Iraq. That will be the part you will yearn for when your mission or work project is over. And believe me, Sulaymaniah, Erbil, London or Geneva, no place is perfect and your own inner strength, polished by your own ability to survive and thrive in each posting are the only things you sometimes have to hold on to in amongst the discomfort, the frustration and fear, so make every second, every contact, every experience count. And these are the very things you'll be glad of when you return home and undergo reverse culture shock (because it is inevitable - take it from me, I have kissed supermarket floors and lived months without really speaking to loved ones because they just have no idea where you have been), and so the cycle will start again - make it all count, and let it light the way forward - for you.

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    2. Fantastic feedback here Anon and especially the comment that it's important to have a strong sense of self - I think that's really the key.

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  5. @ Anon, what an interesting perspective! I hope you are able to settle in well enough - I can imagine that there are quite a few differences there.

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  6. We are not alone indeed. I've started to take an even broader perspective of it 'reverse culture shock'. Traveling literally does feel like living the dream, returning home is like the feeling you get when you wake up from a great dream and you wish you could go back to Wonderland.
    I guess the ultimate solution would be to try to capture the energy of the trip in your everyday - taking risks, being open, social and active.

    It makes you wonder what its like for celebrities or Olympians returning to civilian life after their 15minutes are up. On the other end of the spectrum, what its like for soldiers returning home after seeing the extremes of war.
    http://www.lozintranslation.blogspot.com.au/2012/03/coming-home-from-year-abroad-beating.html

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    1. What a great comparison - celebrities, Olympians etc - trying to return to normal life - I'd never thought of it like that. But you're right about trying to keep a travel-like energy when you're back home - hard to do but a good solution.

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  7. We are not alone indeed. I've started to take an even broader perspective of it 'reverse culture shock'. Traveling literally does feel like living the dream, returning home is like the feeling you get when you wake up from a great dream and you wish you could go back to Wonderland.
    I guess the ultimate solution would be to try to capture the energy of the trip in your everyday - taking risks, being open, social and active.

    It makes you wonder what its like for celebrities or Olympians returning to civilian life after their 15minutes are up. On the other end of the spectrum, what its like for soldiers returning home after seeing the extremes of war.
    http://www.lozintranslation.blogspot.com.au/2012/03/coming-home-from-year-abroad-beating.html

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  8. Yeah- I've struggled with (and written about) this too. I think the point about keeping up the "travel energy" is a good one. After all you can't change those people who don't even ask you how it was. However, I find it really difficult to stay in a travel mentality if I stay home for too long. Best to keep moving or live overseas.
    Jenny
    http://www.gearupandplay.com

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    1. Thanks Jenny, good to hear your input. I've found that constantly writing about travel certainly helps me stay in that travel mentality - and accepting that for a short few years (while my son is young - hard to travel a lot because nearly everywhere is long-haul from Perth) I will be a bit more grounded than usual!

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  9. I first have to say that I love this blog and can relate to this so well. Recently I have started to travel (short visits) to places and I have fallen in love with them (probably too much).

    I come from a small but fairly wealthy Caribbean island, and even though home is beautiful and I'm surrounded by amazing friends and family, I keep wishing I can live in those places I've visited. My island is so small, that travel and exploration within it is hard. A lot of people tend to migrate from my country, and when they do, they keep boasting how much better life is in bigger countries, and from what I've seen when I visit, it does seem to be richer on many levels. I would love to live abroad as well, in Europe especially, but my spouse due to career reasons can't. It's for all these reasons reverse culture shock seems to hit me really hard after every visit abroad.

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  10. thank you, thank you, thank you! this is so much how i felt when i returned from my first experience abroad and what i fear will happen when i return home 'for good' (i.e. as the settled down kind of 'for good') next year, so any advice on this is much appreciated :)

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  11. oh, and i forgot to add, my first 'return from abroad' experience happened back in 1999 and when i tried to explain how i felt, i actually used the term 'reversed cultural shock', but most people seemed quite puzzled but this :)

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    1. I'm glad to help with a little advice! But it's also my experience that other people won't understand either the term "reverse culture shock" or many of your feelings about it ... but good luck, hope it goes as well as possible. Forewarned is forearmed, as they say.

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  12. Hi! I'm glad I found your blog, it makes me feel really good every time I read it. I'm a 20 years old girl from the South of Italy and I love traveling around and living abroad since I was a child. I experienced this awful culture shock after a year spent in the North of Norway as an exchange student, I was 16 and I didn't know how to deal with that. After a year I moved to another city to continue my study at University and now, after two years I am home again for some months and then I will be in Holland for my erasmus. I know now what to do, and I finally understood that what I learn from being abroad is so important that nothing can compare. But if I'd read this post a year ago, maybe it would have been easier and faster. It took me time, but I finally made it. Thank you for sharing, it can be really helpful for many people.

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  13. So this is what it is called... been back from Argentina one year after spending one year there and I'm still not quite over that feeling of being back in the States. Takes a traveler to know a traveler!

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  14. I'm returning to England in 2 months time. I've been living in Taiwan and reverse culture shock is the only thing I worry about when going back. I'm hoping to kinda hit the ground running and not give myself to think about!

    totheeastshegoes.blogspot.co.uk

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  15. I returned to the states after living in Japan for almost five years this August. I agree with a lot of what you wrote, especially the "seen" but not "heard" thing. It's been tough job searching and at the same time trying to readjust to a country that isn't quite my home anymore. It's good to know there are other people who have survived the same thing. Thank you!

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  16. I am from Costa Rica, and I went to England for 6 months , at first I experienced a huge cultural shock when I got there, after 1 month and a half I stared to feel pretty used to even though i missed my country so badly. I am not sure If I even managed to felt at home in England, so I was really happy to come back to my country, but now that I am living on the ordinary world again, reality has hit me hard! I don't feel at home anymore, I really hate some cultural things that used to be so normal for me, now i cant see those things as "normal" or even acceptable. Its very confusing, I want to settled down here but at the same time I am constantly thinking about running away, and I just got the opportunity to live abroad for a while again, but Idk if this is a good idea, I wonder if I leave the country would i ever feel at home again? :O

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    1. I can understand your situation because I experienced the same. I was 9 months in Georgia, then I came back to my home country Germany. I stayed there for 4 months. It was a difficult time. Then I attended a school in Moscow and India. Since February I´m back home. This time reverse culture shock is even harder than the last time. I highly recommend you to just hold on til you get used to it.. Sometimes it is an easy escape to go abroad again. What gives me hope is that this will not last forever. One day I will love my home country. One day this will be a comfort zone again.

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