Dealing with Reverse Culture Shock
I few months back I wrote a blog entry that looked at ways that people can deal with culture shock in a positive manner when they travel to a foreign country. What a lot of people don't realize though, is when you return from an extended visit abroad people are often faced with something called Reverse Culture Shock. The idea may seem strange a first, as many people think "how can I experience culture shock in my home country, when I have lived there my whole life?" but take it from me or anyone who lived abroad for a significant amount of time, it really exists. In fact, reverse culture shock can be so powerful that I've seen people who are incapable of handling life backhome, who quickly return to their life abroad.
In this entry, I first want to try to explain what reverse culture shock is and then I'll offer some suggestions on how to deal with this unnerving feeling that many experience upon their return home.
People who experience reverse culture shock, like regular culture shock, often go through different stages when they come home. The first stage is the honeymoon stage. This usually starts in the lead-up to coming home and when you first arrive. In this stage you are very excited to come home and see the people you missed, do the things you used to do, eat the food you love most from home, etc. Part of this stage is also the great enthusiasm to tell everyone at home all about your experiences while you were gone. For me, this is usually the part where the negative aspects of culture shock starts kicking in, as you'll find people are not as interested in your experiences as you would like them to be. No matter how important your experiences are to you, they will never be that important to others. People will listen for a short period, but you'll probably be disappointed how quickly the subject can change away from your wonderful stories.
The next stage is the transition stage. At this point the realization that you are not going back to the country/culture you just lived in kicks in and you then have to begin your life at home again. It's amazing how humans can adapt to a new culture / society so quickly, and you'll likely start comparing life abroad (familiar) to life at home (unfamiliar). Like with culture shock, the way things happen around you may make you frustrated, angry, disorientated or even helpless. You'll probably become overly critical of your home culture and start missing the way things are back in like say Japan, Korea, Brazil and so on. Feeling reverse homesickness and missing your new friends in that foreign country are often experienced in this stage. This is the stage where some people give up on home and head back to where they just came back from.
Stage 3, the alienated stage, doesn't necessarily follow the transition stage, but instead it usually accompanies the feelings you experience when transitioning back to home. The thing is, most people when tasked with living in a radically different country often change as a person. These changes in your own personality can make it difficult for the people around you to relate or understand the new you. You may feel off or find conversations difficult when talking with friends and family, which can lead to feeling alienated and lonely. At the same time, while you have been away and becoming a new person, you may be surprised how little has changed with the people back home. You may also unfortunately feel like relationships and friendships that you have had for many years have become weaker.
The last stage of reverse culture shock is usually the gradual readjustment stage. In this stage the things that shocked you upon return (like access to all the foods you missed so much while away) no longer seem shocking. you also probably start developing similar routines that you had before going abroad. You'll find a new job, become comfortable with the cultural norms and blend back in with family and friends. There is a good chance that things will never quite be the same again though....but that's OK. You should never forget the positive things you experience abroad or the lessons you learned, but instead you should cherish these times and try to incorporate them into your new life at home.
Tips for dealing with reverse culture shock
1. Understand that you have changed and accept that this doesn't have to be a bad thing. What is critical is that you relax and give yourself time to adjust to your new surroundings again.
2. Talk about your experiences, but realize that people might not be as interested as you would like them to be. At the same time it might be a good idea to seek out new friends who have experienced similar things as you have as this can help you adjust back to your home life.
3. Keep in touch with your friends abroad. Not only will this help you keep these friendships alive, but it will help with the reverse homesickness I mentioned earlier. Also, by doing so you can always go back to visit these people in the future.
4. Stay adventurous. Just because your life abroad has stopped for the moment doesn't mean the adventure has to stop. You need to continue to seek out new experiences, new friends and don't stop traveling. For me once I got the travel bug, I knew that travelling was going to be a lifelong passion.
5 Stay positive. Reverse culture shock can suck. I remember feeling as if people back home could never understand what I experienced abroad and what I was feeling now. I also remember feeling tremendously homesick and wanting to go back to South Korea to be with people who got the new me. If you stay positive, realistic and surround yourself with people who love you, reverse culture shock will quickly recede.