7 Facts About Reverse Culture Shock

Written by Russ Gadzhiev, PhD

“It is a funny thing coming home. Nothing changes. Everything looks the same, feels the same, even smells the same. You realized what’s changed is you.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald

 

“Leave home, leave the country, leave the familiar. Only then can routine experience – buying bread, eating vegetables, even saying hello – become new all over again.” – Anthony Doerr

 

“After you leave home, you may find yourself feeling homesick, even if you have a new home that has nicer wallpaper and a more efficient dishwasher than the home in which you grew up.” – Lemony Snicket

 

We know what culture shock is. As we have discussed in our previous article, culture shock is a special state of mind which is characterized by a feeling of disorientation and confusion when one finds themselves in an unfamiliar environment. Sometimes people who move overseas have other uncomfortable feelings and emotions, which are also caused by culture shock.

But what about reverse culture shock? Well, reverse culture shock is a feeling of disorientation and confusion that one may feel when coming back to their native land after a long time overseas. Indeed, many people who have spent years overseas and then decide for some reason to come back to their home country and settle there may realize that they are overwhelmed by negative feelings and emotions. They don’t recognize the place which used to be so familiar. They are not able to connect to things that made them feel at home before.

Unexpectedly for many people, returning home after a long time spent overseas may be as daunting and uncomfortable as their moving overseas. In this article, we are going to talk about reverse culture shock, and we will tell you the most important facts about this underestimated phenomenon. 

 

Reverse culture shock also has its stages – just like culture shock

 

Of course, when you come back to your home country to settle there you feel very excited. After all, it is the place where you were born, where you grew up, where you made your friends, and so on. You see your family members, you see your old friends and indeed it seems like there is no better place in the world, than your native country. But unfortunately, very soon your state of excitement begins to wear off. Suddenly, you start feeling out of place. You realized that things have changed in your native country. You have changed as well. 

The feeling of being out of place is indeed a huge shock. Most people simply do not expect that on coming back to their home country they will feel the same way they felt when they moved to a new country. 

What kinds of feelings does a person who is going through a reverse culture shock experience? They may feel bored. When they are trying to talk to their friends on a deeper level, they realize that their friends find it difficult to understand what they are talking about. They also may feel that their friends are not interested in hearing what they want to say. 

People going through reverse culture shock may also start seeing the negative sides of everything. Just like their first encounters with a different culture overseas, people returning home may experience feelings of anger, irritation, and so on. 

 

There are strategies to deal with reverse culture shock

 

If you are going through reverse culture shock, you are not alone. Your experience is not unique and fortunately, psychologists have come up with a variety of strategies and tips to help those struggling to reconnect with their home. 

First of all, despite the fact that you may feel lonely and have the impression that nobody wants to listen to you, it is probably not the case. Your close friends will still try to understand you and will listen to you anyway. Talk to them, patiently explain things that they may not understand and soon you will see that you are able to find those points of convergence and common interests that you used to have when you were younger. 

The same strategies that you used when trying to adjust to a new culture overseas will work back home

So, just because you have moved back to a country where you spent time growing up, does not mean that there is nothing to explore there. So go out and explore! Visiting new places will help you experience new emotions – excitement, and curiosity. It will also remind you of the times that you spent overseas. 

When you are back home, you may start missing food that you like to have overseas. So if that is the case, try to find a restaurant with food from that country. Or, if there is no such restaurant, then buy the ingredients and cook it yourself! 

And of course, if you feel like your reverse culture shock should have worn off and you are just unable to find joy and happiness in life, find a mental health professional. Since the language of your home country is familiar too, finding one should not be too difficult. With the right approach and therapy, you will be able to get out of the reverse culture shock pretty soon.

 

The intensity of the reverse culture shock will depend on many factors

 

First of all, if your return home is happening against your will – then, of course, you are likely to struggle more with reverse culture shock. Your age will also play a role – if you are young, then it will be difficult for you to readjust. Older people tend to adjust more quickly than younger people because of their life experiences. The longer you stay overseas, the more difficult it will be for your to adjust to the place you used to call home. Likewise, if your interaction with difficult cultures overseas was very active, then it will be difficult for you to forget about them when you come back home. And of course, the more different the culture of your host country from your home country, the more time it will take for you to readjust. So if you are considering moving back home to settle there, consider these variables and prepare accordingly. 

 

Be mindful of your feelings and accept the fact that things have changed

 

Yes, it may be hard to believe, but time did not stand still while you were away. People moved on, married, got careers, and travelled overseas as well. Life is changing no matter whether we like it or not. Acceptance of the fact that you have changed and your family and friends back home have changed too will help you stop expecting things to work the way they did in the past. Acceptance will help you embrace the new situation and reconnect with your home. 

Mindfulness is an important thing that will help you not become overwhelmed by your feelings. If you feel like there is nobody to talk to or negative feelings and emotions are taking over you, start writing a journal. Write down everything you feel. Do not worry about the form – just write. Spill it all on paper. Writing your thoughts and emotions down may serve as a good outlet for your feelings and facilitate your re-adaptation. Managing your emotions is a great skill that will stand you in good stead in the future as well. 

It goes without saying that it will take you some time to get accustomed to a new place, even if that new place used to be home. Reverse culture shock is an actual thing and its effects should not be underestimated. If you are only about to make the decision of moving back to your native country, make sure you learn more about reverse culture shock to deal with it promptly and effectively. 

The tips and insights that we have given to you in this article will help you go through your reverse culture shock without excessive stress and worry. And once again remember – although it may be confusing and frustrating to realize that you have drifted apart from the culture that used to be familiar, you are still able to reconnect with it, without losing your connection with the people you got to know while living overseas.

 

 

 

 

 

Russ Gadzhiev obtained his PhD in history and politics from University of Melbourne. He also holds a master’s degree in International Relations from Moscow State University of International Relations, a top-ranking diplomatic school. Russ is a strong education professional with a history of working in the higher education sector of Australia and effectively communicates with learners from diverse cultural backgrounds. He is enthusiastic about teaching and mentoring, writing, curriculum development, research, information management and public speaking. He is fluent in Russian, English, Spanish and Portuguese.

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