Moving to a different country has an abundance of benefits, but sometimes that big life change isn’t forever. You may find yourself wanting to move back home and live the life that you used to before your big move. What you may not expect upon your arrival back home is a big case of reverse culture shock.
Dictionary defines culture shock as “a state of bewilderment and distress experienced by an individual who is suddenly exposed to a new, strange, or foreign social and cultural environment”. After spending time in your new environment, you adapt and learn to function in different ways, sometimes changing your lifestyle completely.
Reverse culture shock happens after you’ve adapted to your new environment and try to move back to your original familiarly. It can be overwhelming as your lifestyle and way of thinking may have completely changed within your time away. From grocery shopping to relationships, everything can be different.
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Experiencing Reverse Culture Shock
There are several situations that may occur when you move back home. All of them can be overwhelming and you may feel extremely lonely. Here are some situations that you may run into when moving back home.
Modern World Problems
When you’re experiencing reverse culture shock, “first world problems” may become a bit overwhelming to you. Imagine only shopping from one small grocery store that rarely has your favorite cereal in stock. Now imagine walking into a Walmart that is not only gigantic but has 6 different brands of cereal you’re looking for.
It can be overwhelming and confusing to have that many options after being limited for so long. Little problems that you didn’t have to think twice about for an extended period of time, you now have to solve immediately in a bright and large grocery store.
Same old, same old
After traveling and living abroad, you’ve exposed yourself to a completely different culture. You’ve seen things that were so unfamiliar to you and appreciated how beautiful they are. Now you’re back in your hometown and you see the same things over and over again that you saw growing up.
It can feel as if you’ve traveled back in time, but now you have an entirely new mindset. You may find that the familiarity you’ve missed becomes boring after a few days or weeks. The nostalgia wears off and you’re left looking at the same old thing you’ve seen time and time again.
Relationships aren’t what they once were
Part of the reason you’ve been looking forward to moving home is to see the people you’ve missed dearly. But when you’re struggling with reverse culture shock, these relationships may not be what you’ve envisioned in your head.
As we go through different obstacles and experiences in life, they help shape who we become. While you’ve been away, you have changed in so many ways and the people you loved may have changed as well (or not at all). You may find it hard to connect with them in the way that you used to, and you may even find that they have no interest in hearing about your life away.
When you’re returning home with reverse culture shock, you’re hyper-aware of how people react when you talk about your life. You can find your loved ones showing signs of irritation or jealousy when you speak of the places you’ve been. Regardless of the vibes that you feel from them, the relationship has changed and you may not have expected that.
The Four Stages of Reverse Culture Shock
According to American.Edu, there are four stages of experiencing reverse culture shock, “Disengagement, Initial euphoria, irritability and hostility, and readjustment and adaptation”. These stages are very similar to culture shock and even have a bit of the five stages of grief within them. But what is each stage of reverse culture shock going to look like and how are you supposed to navigate through it?
How to cope with reverse culture shock through each stage
Disengagement may begin before you have even left to “return home”. You may find yourself feeling a number of emotions about leaving. You’re likely already missing the friends you have made while there. The thought of saying good-bye could make you so sad that you start to disengage with the connections you’ve made there. You’re likely pulling away from your friends so it doesn’t hurt as much when you leave.
But this disengagement is harmful as these are the things that you will miss the most when experiencing reverse culture shock. Making these memories and spending time with your friends can help you cope and not damage those relationships you’ve built. There are some ways to lessen the pain of leaving without completely pulling away.
Consider not having a “going away party”. The thought of an entire party based upon a departure can be saddening. Instead, have one last celebration for something that has absolutely nothing to do with you leaving. This could be any holiday, birthday, or simply a night out on the town or hike with your friends. No goodbyes, but just a last celebration.
Initial euphoria can also happen prior to your departure. If you’ve been planning your move back home for a while, you’ve likely envisioned exactly what your arrival will be like. But when you experience situations where your loved ones don’t want to hear about your stories living abroad, then you dive straight into the next state of reverse culture shock.
Avoiding initial euphoria is hard due to all the excitement you have for this big change in your life. Instead of getting overly excited, try to make it feel normal to the life you’ve currently been living. Search for places that you can visit in your hometown that will make you feel a bit of nostalgia for the place you have left. From restaurants to culture fairs, there is an abundance of places to visit that will make you feel less like you’re in a completely foreign area.
The next stage of reverse culture shock is irritability and hostility. You may find yourself getting angry when you run into these situations. You’ve left a whole life that you’ve built behind for one that you were excited about, and it’s different than what you thought it would be. You may find yourself wondering “Well, why did I even make the move back?”.
The easiest way to go through reverse culture shock is to plan for it ahead of time. Try connecting with the family and friends you’ve missed before you make your big move. Be eager to not only share your life with them but to learn about their lives.
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Being back in your home town may feel odd, and you’ll find yourself wanting to talk about your travels so many times, but this can be overwhelming for your friends and family who have never left. They may be jealous, feel inferior, or they may even feel as if they do not know who you are anymore. Connecting with them ahead of your move can help you both understand the expectations of the relationship before you’re in the midst of reverse culture shock.
The last stage of reverse culture shock is a gradual readjustment. It’s going to take time to adjust to the country you’re back in, it won’t happen overnight. Just like when you first made the move away from home, there are moments that feel odd or out of place. Those moments are bound to pop up when you’re experiencing reverse culture shock, but you will adjust to them.
There are so many positive things about your experience in a different area, and you shouldn’t let those go just because you’re back home. Instead of mourning what could have been, focus on building your life going forward and include the experiences and knowledge you’ve gained along the way. Don’t let what you’ve gained slip away because you’re no longer there.
Dealing with reverse culture shock is overwhelming and will never be easy. Staying in touch with friends and family from your hometown as well as the place you’ve moved to will help you feel less alone. There are even Facebook groups for people who have also experienced reverse culture shock and they can provide the additional support you may need.
Don’t let reverse culture shock stop you from traveling. If anything, let it encourage you to travel more and gain these world experiences that shape you and the loved ones in your life. The world is not the same in every area, and the more exposure we all have to other ways of living, the more we can connect with one another.
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