Culture shock is an inevitable part of travelling.
Upon arrival in a new country, far from home, you are faced with a cacophony of unfamiliar noise, colour and rhythms of life. It is a beautiful, overwhelming and character-forming experience which cannot be compared to anything you could find in your home country.
This is culture shock.
However, after some time of being abroad (usually at least around 6 months), the foreign becomes a part of everyday life, new experiences become the staple of your existence. And an interesting reversal takes place;
Although you can’t put your finger on it, you start to find that returning home is the most confusing sensation of all.
The world has transitioned into a border-less living space for you, and “home” as a concept is no longer as solid as it once seemed.
You are experiencing reverse culture shock.
Those who move back home from abroad often have difficulty adjusting to a life they assumed was ‘normal’ and these struggles fall into two main categories:
Non-travellers are alien to you
Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too.
Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”
― Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky
For someone who has been immersed in another culture for so long, connecting with people back home who have built their lives exclusively in their native lands can become more difficult.
It will feel as though your friends have changed significantly, but the truth is that it is you that has been reshaped by your travels. You think in a different way and your perspective is more exterior; you can look in from outside which is an amazing talent, but it creates a distance where there was none before.
The culture feels unfamiliar
In the past, you didn’t think twice about the customs, the rhythm of life or even the fashion of your native country. But as an ex-expatriate, everything has a slightly disjointed feel about it, like a memory that has been distorted.
At times it seems that you are viewing your culture as a foreigner would, being perplexed or irritated by common behaviours or traditions.
All of these challenges add up to an unexpected anxiety following repatriation. And the very fact that most travellers have not heard of this phenomenon makes it difficult to deal with.
Do not be alarmed if, after re-entry into your own country, you find yourself preferring to be alone because no one understands you and because you can’t explain how you feel. It is perfectly normal.
Here are some tips to overcome reverse culture shock:
- Be yourself; your new self. You are internationally-minded, cultural, and worldly. Own it. It will always be one of your biggest assets, and there’s no reason to give up the things you loved and were accustomed to abroad.
- Be vocal and cooperative. Tell others about your experience, write, teach. Many will benefit from your insights and will want to be included in your world so you won’t feel so alienated.
- Find people like you. Travellers, expats, wanderlusters. Make the connections you feel you have lost with people who share your interests and experiences.
- Accept that your ‘home’ is now several places. It gives you the excuse to travel, to return to where you left your heart, to stay in touch with people globally. Don’t let reverse homesickness get you down!
- Have humour. You will be confused, make mistakes, speak in the wrong language, behave like a foreigner and be embarrassed about it. Don’t worry! Laughter is the best medicine and your friends and family will enjoy the journey too.
If this article spoke to you, share your experience of reverse culture shock in the comments and connect with like-minded people!