Reverse Culture Shock and How You Can Deal with it

When it hit me that I’d be going home a few weeks back, I panicked. I was convinced that if I just kept traveling, all my experiences would remain ‘real’ and wouldn’t succumb to fading in the dusty box of surreal memories in my mind.

Turns out that was the least of my problems. I didn’t understand reverse culture shock, and it snuck up behind me and struck me upside the head.

Police Officer at Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem, Israel - YourLocalKat
Not remembering a bomb threat in Jerusalem was the least of my worries

The Symptoms

I’ve come back, but I’ve yet to find the feeling of ‘home.’

My relationships, held strong over time by skype and email, feel oddly distant face to face. I want to share what I’ve experienced but there’s so much that can never fully be conveyed, and I find myself missing the company of those I met during my journey: they barely know me and yet somehow know me better than anyone else.

And there’s an odd sense of duality: I look like everyone and talk like everyone but somehow feel like a foreigner. It’s like I’ve lived a whole other life and I’m not quite sure what to do with this whole other person that came back from the east.

Maybe I’m not sure what to do with the one that stayed here.

The ‘me’ that came back.

Reverse Culture Shock

After a bit of research and talking to people, I found that reverse culture shock is actually quite common.

It strikes when someone comes back ‘home’ after getting accustomed to a different culture, and shows up as loneliness, frustration or a general feeling of disconnect between the re-entrant and their surroundings.

But with people describing it as a “misalignment,” saying that everything is “almost right,”  and that “everything feels familiar, yet different,” they’re clearly not just talking about cultural differences – this unplaceable disconnect is a result of the change that happens within the re-entrant: everything is the same and yet somehow different because it is the re-enterant’s view that is different.

“Up” I hope.

How To Deal With It

You might get distracted and barely notice it, or feel odd and out of place for a few weeks, or maybe end up shutting out the world completely. Either way, whether your return home is temporary or permanent, dealing with the shock of being back can be difficult. Here are some things I’ve been doing that you can do to make the transition easier:

Exchange Experiences

While you were living your travels, your close ones were living their home lives, and it’s important to realize all the changes that have taken place, whether internal or external. Sharing some of the experiences you’ve gone through, and asking them about the goings-on at home will give everyone a chance to know where the other party is coming from.

Connect & Reconnect

Keep up with the friends you met while on the road – they know you at your most recent and can often be the ones that know the ‘changed you’ best. Maintaining those connections can help you readjust and prevent you from getting lost in the ho-hum of everyday life.

On that note, start making new memories with the people that you’ve just come back to! Getting stuck reminiscing only about memories of by-gone travel adventures will make everyone miserable.

Pho Bo Breakfast in Phu Quoc, Vietnam - YourLocalKat
Pho Bo Breakfast in Phu Quoc, Vietnam

Integrate the Changes

Maybe you make having noodles for breakfast the new ‘it’ thing.  Maybe you keep up with your French. Maybe you decorate your digs with Moroccan patterns, start going for runs in the morning, or stop trying to control everything (so much easier to ‘let go’ on the road).

Regardless, combining aspects of your travels that you enjoyed or that specifically became a part of you will make being back less of a terrifying, ‘boring’ option, and more an exciting opportunity. Make your travels keep on giving!

Play Tourist at Home

I’m always shocked at how little people tour around their own countries or cities. *cough* Guilty. *cough* But ‘traveling’ around your home town and to nearby cities is an easy way to keep up the adventure, and can make ‘home’ less of an ‘end’ and more of another destination where you happen to be spending time. There’s a good chance tourists come to your town for something – check it out! Alternatively, go where tourists don’t go. Oooh, now we’re talking.

Give it a Moment

My mom keeps saying, “You were so ‘go-with-the-flow’ and accepting on your travels – Accept this now, and that it’ll pass.” It’s probably good advice. So accept it, don’t push it. Find a place where you feel comfortable while you ‘deal’ with it – eventually you will readjust, reassimilate, reintegrate anew.

And if all else fails: