My fellowship is ending soon, but some of my class fellows already went back home and they shared how they experienced reverse cultural shock. Before that, I was thinking to myself this is not a “thing”, but maybe it is. With this whole COVID-19 situation and the stress of finding a flight back home I don’t want to add more complications, so I decided get to the bottom of it to get myself ready.
First, what is reverse culture shock? Simply, it is returning to one’s country and no longer feeling at home there.
As an “expatriate”, we have had to learn to live in another country, in a completely new way, within a vibrant cultural richness, novelty, and diversity. Just as we can feel lost and overwhelmed by this new country, we feel exactly the same way when we return to our own country, except that it might be worse when it is our own country and we can’t find our marks.
The fact is that it’s not the return that is overlooked, but how much we have changed during this relocation. When we arrive in a new country, everything accelerates, we are on the go, listening to everything, attentive to the new social relationships, new work environment. And gradually, we grow, we adapt, we modify our ways of functioning, of reacting, of thinking, of working. This new country becomes deeply rooted in us and becomes a part of who we are.
Then it’s justified to feel the reverse cultural shock by a more or less important gap between the person we have become and the person our families and friends expect to find again. This gap places us in a very uncomfortable situation that is difficult to manage psychologically: it is like returning to live with your parents as an adult when you have been living independently for several years, you no longer feel at home, powerless, passive, probably even lonely. I personally dread this situation as this is what will happen at least in the first few months while finding a job and stable finance again.
A very important question stopped me: How long does reverse culture shock last?
I found that it usually lasts a few weeks to several months. Some live it better than others. I am hoping I am with the former group.
Practically, the reverse culture shock is identical to what we experienced during the culture shock and goes through the same phases:
– The honeymoon phase: we rediscover our country with pleasure. Take advantage of it, it’s usually short!
– The Crisis: this stage usually starts classically when all the suitcases are empty, and we confronted on the one hand with great moments of solitude and reflection and on the other hand with practical situations that we must resolve alone. We may regret the life before, which at the time did not always completely satisfy us, and we are dissatisfied with the current situation.
– The period of adjustment: the beginning of this period varies according to the people and situations back home. But the trigger often occurs when you start to feel connected to your environment, to your community, when you have found a job again.
– Then comes the adaptation period: you return to a normal level of well-being.
Now let’s see how we can deal with it in few tips:
- Before returning home, prepare yourself psychologically.
- Accept the fact that we have changed, and not our surroundings.
- Quickly resume a routine, it avoids falling into depression.
- Take the time to enjoy the things we missed abroad (in my case, food!).
- Do Not compare your country to the USA, seeing only the negative at home and the positive in the USA.
- Try to keep in touch with friends you meet abroad, especially your fellow fellows.
- Rediscover your city and bring back memories (if it is possible with the COVID-19 restrictions)
- Make plans and set new goals!
I hope that was helpful. I wish you a good return home, a real reunion with yourself, and new aspirations in perspective.
And if you have any thoughts or tips on how you get through the reverse culture shock please share in the comments section.