After living adventurously for a year or more, to come back home can seem dull. After the initial euphoria of reuniting with family and friends and telling them your best travel stories, it’s all over. Nobody wants to hear about it anymore. Back to the grind. There’s also an ugly side of returning home that nobody ever talks about: reverse culture shock.
“Re-entry shock is when you feel like you are wearing contact lenses in the wrong eyes. Everything looks almost right.”
So, what is reverse culture shock? It’s when a person has lived abroad for a significant period of time, returns to their home country, and feels less familiar with it. Robin Pascoe writes, “re-entry shock is when you feel like you are wearing contact lenses in the wrong eyes. Everything looks almost right.” This is because the expat has to learn and adjust to different norms in the host country. When this person returns home with this new perspective, they begin reevaluating the home country’s norms and values.
In the past, I’ve found it difficult to write about repatriation. Ashamed that I couldn’t vent and talk to anyone who would listen without judgment. I think now is the time to spill the beans.
Reverse culture shock
Reverse culture shock happened to me. When I returned from the UK after four years, I saw my home country with fresh eyes. Trinidad and Tobago seemed too noisy, too hot, too dirty. It was too much hassle to do anything. There was too much traffic, too much fear, too much crime, too much envy, and the ubiquitous Trini crab in barrel syndrome (haters who can’t see you succeed and instead want to pull you down and climb over you to reach their goals).
About two weeks after I returned, people asked if I had adjusted. I didn’t. People expected me to snap back like a rubber band and return to my old relationships and societal roles. They couldn’t understand that after spending my formative adult years in another country, I was irrevocably changed. Instead, some insisted on calling me white lady/girl and English lady because they didn’t know how to deal with the difference.
I felt like life wasn’t exciting anymore. When things didn’t go my way, I immediately went on the defensive: “Well in England, blah blah blah.” I couldn’t stop comparing the faults of T&T with the virtues of the UK. People around me stopped listening. I felt dislocated; they felt insulted. It was a terrible equation. Some relationships drifted apart. I finally understood that we had both changed: me and the people who had stayed.
How to cope with reverse culture shock
So how did I deal? When people wouldn’t listen, I would journal. I word-dumped on paper and reread when I needed some perspective. I continued to jog, read The Guardian, listen to Virgin Radio UK, and make Sunday roasts in the sweltering heat. I touched base with friends I made abroad through long emails and Facebook. I kept my new assertive personality and kicked old Miss People Pleaser to the curb. I started blogging about my travels and re-exploring my home country. I found some who enjoyed my posts. Others offered backhanded comments, “Nice but you can’t just write about the past and Trinidad. Don’t you have to be traveling now to blog about it?” #Burn.
Dealing with reverse culture shock is often an uphill struggle. Continue to work through it. It will take time. Keep your new international personality and celebrate it. Share your passion for new cultures with the people you love. Ask your friends and family about what happened when you weren’t there. Develop new friendships with like-minded people. Last, don’t waste your breath with everyone you meet or re-encounter. Some will feel threatened or inadequate and may resent you so only share your pearls with those who will appreciate them.
Have you ever experienced re-entry culture shock? Share in the comments below!
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