Reverse Culture Shock

As my first group of interns prepare to return back to the UK, one topic of conversation that has been heavily discussed is reverse culture shock.  As someone who has travelled a fair amount, I am well acquainted with this confusing feeling.  However, compared to regular culture shock, the reverse feeling felt upon return to one’s home is rarely discussed.  This blog will explain the sensation and hopefully give you some tips on how to prepare and combat reverse culture shock.

Reverse Culture Shock
So, what is reverse culture shock?

Reverse culture shock is pretty much exactly what it states on the tin; it’s a feeling of shock, isolation, or unfamiliarity when you return home after living abroad for a considerable period of time.  It can even sometimes be worse than culture shock felt when first experiencing life in a new place, because you assume that since you are returning somewhere full of family and friends the change will be easier to deal with.  However, a lot of people often explain this transition to be more difficult as they are returning to the same place, but not returning as the same person.  No one at home completely understands the journey you have been on, and you miss the people you shared that journey with.  People at home will often be interested in hearing tales from your time abroad right after your return, but they might become disinterested after a few days or weeks, and this can lead to feelings of frustration and isolation as no one understands the life you lived abroad.

Reverse Culture Shock
Accept your feelings

Although you may feel down or upset for a period of time after your return, the most important thing is to understand why you are feeling that way.  Hopefully this blog will help you to understand this feeling and be aware of reverse culture shock, so if you do experience it you at least know what is happening.  There’s always so much focus on preparing to travel somewhere, but hardly ever preparation for returning home.  It always feels rushed and last minute as you try and pack in as much fun as possible in the last few days in your temporary home.  So, it’s easy to forget to remind yourself that you may find moving home more difficult than moving away.  But accept whatever feelings come, and don’t feel bad about feeling bad!  It’s totally normal and little can be done to prevent missing your time abroad, because let’s be honest, living everyday as an adventure is of course going to be more fun that the daily life you’re used to back home.  But you will slowly adjust back to life at home, and everyday will get easier, just don’t be surprised if sometimes you feel sad or lonely for a day or two.

Stay calm

A major factor which plays into reverse culture shock is often the fact that relatives and friends may not be as interested in hearing about your time abroad as you had hoped.  After a few days, they may grow tired of hearing you talk about your time away but try not to be frustrated or offended.  Try your best to put yourself in their position.  While you have been away discovering new food and making new friends, most people at home have been living their same daily lives and may not want to hear how good a time you have had compared to them.  In addition, it’s important to remember that the world at home did not stand still when you were away.  People change, situations change, and the place you return to may not feel exactly as it did when you initially left.  Be patient, and things will begin to feel normal again.

Reverse Culture Shock
Stay connected

Thankfully today it is possible to stay in touch with people you met on your travels through the magic of social media. Ease of communication is one pro of the ever-evolving social media used constantly in today’s world. If you ever feel down or alone, give your friends from your internship or your travels a message on Facebook (or WeChat!) and see if they’re feeling the same way. It’s important to recognise that these feelings are totally normal, and most people will be going through the same confusing emotions, so talk about them, or just have a catch up and see how everyone is adapting to life back at home!

Keep busy

Similar to regular culture shock, one of the best ways to overcome reverse culture shock is keeping busy. Don’t let yourself spend days on end sitting in your room reminiscing about your time abroad, this will probably only make adjusting to life back at home even harder. Make plans with friends, cook dinner for your family, go for a run, start to learn a new language, basically anything that keeps your mind occupied and helps you keep developing! When you were abroad, you probably did your best to use your time wisely and fit as many activities in as possible. Take this mentality back home and live each day to it’s fullest. Is there somewhere nearby your hometown where you’ve never explored? Is there a museum exhibit on display nearby? Is there a coffee shop with great cake that you’ve not eaten in a while? Even though it may not be as exciting as living abroad in a brand-new environment, you can still find hidden gems in your own back garden, so go out and explore!

Reverse Culture Shock
Plan the future!

From my personal experience, the best way to combat reverse culture shock is to plan something exciting in the near future.  For me, this is usually a short trip away from home.  I’m lucky to live in Europe where travel prices are relatively low, especially in winter, so planning spontaneous trips doesn’t need to break the bank.  However, if travel prices are too high, plan a day trip instead!  Or a party, a picnic, a sports game, a bike ride…  anything that you can look forward to and focus energy on planning, so you can look forward to new adventures rather than becoming sad reminiscing over memories of the past.

Hopefully this blog has helped you to learn about the reality of reverse culture shock and will help you to prepare for your return back home.