Home sweet home: dealing with reverse culture shock

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Repatriation sucks.

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.”

Robin Pascoe

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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30 thoughts on “Home sweet home: dealing with reverse culture shock

  1. I feel the same most of the times when I come back from my long trip. It’s a good idea to share your experiences with people who are really interested in knowing about them. I like what you have written. Speaks my mind!

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  2. Living away from home country and then going back to same place is really a cultural shock. I also went through same phase. Re adjusting to place where we were born and lived is very difficult as our family and friends don’t understand what we are feeling and to cope up with their expectations is also difficult for us. I must say when we travel we broaden our mindset and look the world in different perspective when we return, so this mismatch of mindset happens with all travelers returning to their homes. Dealing with this is making friends who are also facing same situation.

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  3. My goodness. Absolutely loved your blog and something i would like to share with people because I want them to understand what I go through when I come back home from long travels. THe sheer alien-ness of the place eats your mind. I hope you are coping up with the changes well 🙂

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  4. Another great post Suzanne, and well done for ignoring the negativity and rising above. I can imagine it must have been hard to return to the daily grind, but as a gifted writer, I’m sure you can clearly express these feelings. Keep up the good posts, and I did laugh at #burn 😀

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  5. I get this feeling every time I return from a trip. Never knew it is called ‘Reverse culture shock’. I always take a few weeks back home to adjust back to my routine. Thanks for sharing the tips to cope with it. Really helpful. Hope you were successful in reversing your Reverse culture shock.

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  6. I can tell that I have the same feeling whenever going back home for vacation while living abroad, It is hard because I keep moving to different countries to live in. Hope you will feel okay soon!

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  7. This is something that is close to home as we are about to embark on a round the world trip. I can imagine it would be really hard to come back as so much has changed for you but everyone at home is the same. Thank goodness for like minded friends and travellers who you met on the way!

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  8. Haha, I can relate to this. My country India is so diverse that a visiting a new state is like visiting a new country. So, every time I visit a new state, I look at my home state with new eyes. However, the perspective becomes bigger when I return from a foreign country. In my case, when I return from a foreign trip I have more respect for my countries and a better understanding of its flaws and perfections.

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  9. I know that a lot of us can relate to this, even if we haven’t been able to translate our feelings into words just yet. It’s frustrating to have so many people around us just not GET what it is that we’re feeling. I’m glad that you met friends abroad who understand and can be a safe place to talk it out!

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    1. Thank you Rachelle. It’s very important to find empathetic (not sympathetic) people who you can talk to, even if they’ve never experienced reverse culture shock themselves.

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  10. This is so interesting! I went to college is a really small town, so I kind of know the feeling from going from a metro-area to a slower-paced community. But, I can only imagine how much more jarring it would be to come home after living abroad.

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  11. It is so true, no body ever talks about reverse culture shock. Staying abroad changes the hues in which you see your own country and culture – even if it has been short 6 month to 1 year stay. I am kind of facing it right now at a very minimal level but it is there! I guess it just takes time and like you said, writing about it talking about it with people who might understand is the best way to cope up 🙂

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  12. I absolutely have. I have just returned home after 6 years of living and working abroad in S. America, Asia and Europe. I felt like this every time I would come home for short periods. am I adjusting now?…yes, and i can;t explain as to why i do not have itchy feet yet. maybe it’s all about feeling ready to be home or choosing a home?

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  13. This is so true and it’s something that is not often talked about. It can be devastating when that euphoria that traveling brings is gone and over! It can be difficult to immerse back into the normal grind!

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  14. I’ve felt this exact feeling. Sometimes I even get depressed coming home because I know no one understands why I travel so much…or the awesome people I meet, or the beautiful places I go. Nor do they even seem to care!! Love this, it really hit the nail on the head!

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  15. What’s that saying – you can’t go home again? I totally understand where you’re coming from, and often find it jarring to come back to real life and the everyday routine after traveling. Best solution? Take another trip!

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