Most people are aware of Culture shock when travelling to a foreign country, but how many of us are aware of the Reverse culture shock that happens upon returning home? I had no idea what had hit me the first time I returned home from my trip to Europe in 2010 and I have experienced it pretty much every return home after that one, especially since I have been living abroad and backpacking for the past 4.5 years. The transitions back home weren’t easy and I’m still trying to figure it all out (I only returned from my recent stint abroad 3 weeks ago, so I’m still in the midst of it all now). What I do know is, it gets easier every time now that I can prepare myself for what’s ahead.
What is Reverse Culture shock?
After travelling or living abroad, most people expect to be able to pick up exactly where they left off when they return home. We often forget that our home town and the people in it don’t stop and wait for you while you are off gallivanting around the world. Life goes on. When you begin to realise that places have changed, people have changed and things have happened since you’ve been gone, suddenly everything that was so familiar to you before now seems so foreign. This is when the problems start to arise.
The stages of reverse culture shock.
1. The Honeymoon period.
This is the feeling of complete and utter excitement upon returning home. Everyone is excited to see you, you are excited to see them. You can’t wait to sleep in your own bed and eat at all your favourite restaurants. There is always Vegemite in the cupboard, you think all Aussie accents are hilarious and you can’t believe how beautiful the beaches and the sunsets are here.
But like all honeymoons, it comes to an end eventually. You become less exciting to people and them less exciting to you. You suddenly realise that no one really wants to listen to your “that one time when I was in…” stories anymore without their eyes rolling or glazing over in boredom.
And it hurts.
2. The transition period.
Now that the honeymoon stage is over you will probably start to feel lost and maybe even depressed. You miss your life abroad, you miss the friends you made. You start comparing everything, perhaps idealizing the country you just left and then feeling guilty for not loving your own country more. Even simple things like a trip to the supermarket can set you off. “Why doesn’t Australia have that awesome brand of almond milk I always got in Canada”? You suddenly feel like a stranger in your own home and you are not sure how to pick up the pieces.
Here’s my three main reasons as to why the shock sets in.
You are not the same as you were before you left. You have seen and done so many amazing things. You may have developed new beliefs, morals, attitudes and goals. You see things differently now and wonder if everyone is going to understand and like this new version of you.
Accept that you are not the same and it’s perfectly ok. Change is good and it the nature of life. If people can’t get used to this new version of you, then they weren’t really good friends to begin with.
No one seems to be interested in your travels. It’s hard to tell any story without mentioning something from your time abroad as that is all you have known for the past however long. You have so many awesome stories and you can’t understand why no one seems interested in hearing them.
It’s most likely not that people aren’t interested, it could just be that they don’t know how to connect or relate to it. They may have never heard of the places you are talking about or just have no interest in travelling at all. They might just be at a loss of what to say.
Try not to make all your conversations about travels. Don’t shut it off completely either, it is a part of who you are after all. Spend time with your closest friends reminiscing about the old times. It will make you remember what is so great about them and it will help them to realise that just because you left them behind and lived a life without them does not mean you love them any less.
Life seems boring now. Now that you are back home everything seems more..boring. There’s no excitement of the unknown, not knowing where you will be the next day, who you will meet, what you will see. There’s no planning of your next adventure or seeing UNESCO world heritage sites or seventh wonders of the world like it’s a completely normal thing to be doing on a Monday morning while everyone else in the “real world” is at work.
See your home through fresh eyes. Just because your trip is over, it doesn’t mean you have to live a boring life with no excitement or adventure for the rest of your days. Chances are there are a lot of things in your home town you have never experienced. Instead of sticking to your usual hangouts and activities, step out of the box and explore something different. Go to different restaurants, cafe’s and bars. Go for a hike or a bushwalk or do something completely touristy like taking a tour on one of those red sightseeing buses you wouldn’t usually do. See your home through the eyes of a tourist. Look for things you love about your country, like the amazing beaches and good coffee and focus on that.
..And now for the final stage.
3. The readjustment period.
Does it ever get better? Yes it does.
How long it takes to settle back into life at home depends on the person. It is a huge adjustment that you wont fully understand until you go through it. Don’t ever forget your life of travels or time living abroad, but don’t let it consume your every thought either. After all, it is in the past now and you can’t move forward if you are holding on too tightly to the past. Use your knowledge and everything you have gained from your travels to create a new life and a new, exciting path to follow. You’ll be back to your old, smiling self in no time!