I certainly thought that experiencing culture shock when returning to the US was enough! Not to mention REVERSE culture shock! To be truthful, reverse culture shock was more noticeable for both of us. We had so many perspectives and outlooks on life change while traveling. Trying to relate to life in the States again just sounded exhausting!
What to Expect in the Stages of Reverse Culture Shock
1. Separation & Anxiety
One of the hardest parts of the process is saying goodbye to your new life you’ve made abroad. It’s always hard to say goodbye to friends, especially ones who you know will be alone once you are gone. Friends who made you feel so welcome and included you in all their plans. It’s a friendship from a different culture, which makes it invaluable.
It will leave a hole in your heart when you leave.
It is exhausting to plan to leave. All the last minute visits, long trips, phone calls, parties, dinners, and canceling things makes it a stressful time! The fear of losing the intangible things you have learned such as language, customs, culture, etc… will be weighing on your mind too.
2. Initial Euphoria
“We are going home!” It’s so exciting to board that plane knowing you will see family you haven’t seen in over a year. The excitement of being “home” and seeing family gives you that sense of euphoria. We literally counted down the days until we were leaving. Not because we were excited to leave but mostly just excited to be “home,” wherever that was.
This stage is called INITIAL euphoria because once you are back for a few weeks, it starts to feel as though no one seems to care that you’re back. You have so many stories to tell of your life abroad but then you realize it is something you have to experience in order to understand. It hurts when they don’t want to listen to you because it’s been your life for the past few years. You want to explain everything in depth but they are just itching to move onto another topic, one they can relate to.
We realized that our life abroad cannot be seen by visible or tangible things. It is full of experiences that are seared in our memories. That’s the reason why we have a desire to tell our experiences! Our friends and family have been visibly making their lives here. Making a family, a home, projects, kids, etc.. It’s a different type of life and each party has to lend a listening ear. If not, this leads right into frustration, the next stage.
3. Irritability and Frustration
Our feelings at this stage were not so much hostility, just frustration or unbelief at some of the things we were seeing and hearing. The U.S. culture was quickly forgotten when we were abroad.
The first experience we had was at the airport where a lady with 2 kids, luggage, and stroller was trying to get in line. We and a few people left a gap for her to get through. One young buck walked in front of us all and must have been thinking “Obviously, that is for me.” Rude. We’re all going to be on the plane before it leaves…
When we were visiting family and friends, they wanted to give us their best meal, show us everything new, and showcase their latest projects. It’s hard not to think about all our friends abroad who don’t have a fraction of the things people have here. It’s hard to see people with so much that they don’t value what they have the way others would.
It makes you feel like a stranger because never before have you had these thoughts. It makes you lonely for your life abroad, disoriented, and helpless. This can lead to depression, be careful of that.
It’s best to just find some quiet time to yourself during this stage. Go for a walk, just disappear, and think. Come to terms with what you are thinking and how you should react. This stage will take the longest because it’s a HUGE re-adjustment stage.
And it’s okay you feel this way.
You have a knowledge base about life that others do not have. You now know how to appreciate, respect, and value things on a different level. It’s coming to terms with who you have become now that you have these new perspectives on life and balancing it with life at “home.”
4. Readjustment and Adaptation
In time, things start to feel normal again. We humans are good at adapting to our surroundings. That doesn’t mean you will forget the incredible learning experiences you had while living or traveling abroad. You will most likely become a different person in your home country. Travel changes you!
You will have adapted new attitudes, habits, customs, and personal ideas. It’s a privilege to be able to see things differently then others. Learning to cope with that and make it a positive aspect to your new life in your home country can be hard but is very rewarding. There will be parts of your international experience following you everywhere you go! That is the beauty of living abroad and traveling!
General Feelings You May Experience Re-Adjusting to Life or Visits in Your Home Country:
- No one wants to listen
- You can’t explain
- Reverse homesickness
- Relationships have changed
- People misunderstand you
- Feelings of alienation
- Inability to apply new knowledge and skills
5. Re-Establishing Relationships
If you have been gone a long time, you will find that relationships with family and friends may have changed. You can’t be gone years at a time and expect to come waltzing back in with everything the same as it always was. You have to re-establish yourself in the place you had among family and friends.
It’s important to not get your feelings hurt.
Expectations lead to disappointment. Just do your best to ease back in slowly and get to know everyone again. There is such an inconsistency with reality and our expectations. Be careful to not let your expectations alienate you. Things change and so do people. Use your new perspectives to your advantage and create a balance that works for you.
Our experiences with reverse culture shock was mostly the availability of food, cleanliness, and pressures of needing to look a certain way, dress a certain way, and act a certain way. You get over it fast, relearn the culture, and interact. You become a new you.
They say travel is a way to find yourself. I believe that travel makes you lose yourself so you can find the new you. You will never be the same. Instead, you find a new balance and that is the you that you wouldn’t have found without travel. It’s all such silly stuff but once a routine sets in, your life will continue as normal just with a MUCH more inspiring background than you would ever have had!
We always encourage everyone to try living a life abroad even if just for a few months or years. It’s life changing!
Have you ever experienced reverse culture shock? What were your experiences? We would love to hear from you!