“Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” – Miriam Beard
Upon returning to the US after living and working in London, my family, friends, and coworkers all welcomed me with great excitement. And along with their welcoming smiles, they offered comments about how “stick-thin” I looked. I had lost 30 pounds while living in England, mainly because I walked everywhere. I also ate much healthier. I was in the best shape of my life, but their concerned eyes said that I looked otherwise. This was my first pang of reverse culture shock.
You may well know culture shock as the feeling of disorientation you experience when visiting a foreign country. Reverse culture shock occurs when you find it difficult to transition back into life in your home country. Here are a few things to expect when reorienting to your home country:
These are things like smells and sounds, weather, hours of sunlight, and the general pace of the life all around. I recall on my first visit to Paris, how intimate the local culture was. From my very American perspective, everyone talked very softly and very physically close to one another. I remember initially thinking, “This place is so quiet that it’s scary.” But when I returned to London, my ears were ringing from all the “noise.” I never realized how loud and lively London was until I spent time away.
These might be things like feeling out of touch, finding it hard to communicate easily, or even feeling jaded toward your home country. When you move to another country, your perceptions change. Everything is different than you’ve known your entire life and after a while you begin to accept this new reality. Although you’ve changed and accepted a broader reality of the world, when you come back home, you might be shocked to find everything just as you left it. The hardest part of this adjustment is the feeling that no one really understands, or even cares about the things that you now care about.
In general, you might feel overwhelmingly BORED. You are no longer trekking the world, experiencing new and different things. You are back in a routine lifestyle where everything is the same.
To help deal with the adjustment phase, try to remember a few key things:
- You are not the same, and that’s a great thing!
- Don’t think of your home country as better or worse. Just different.
- Become an explorer of your home country. There is just as much to learn and grow from in your own back yard.
Have you experienced reverse culture shock? How did you manage the transition?