6 things no-one tells you about reverse culture shock

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Changes that cause reverse culture shock

When you’re an expat or traveling, you’re focusing on processing new information, building new references. You’re dealing with culture shock and all that entails.

When you get back home, you need to switch codes again to function in your old cultural environment. But switching back isn’t that easy, especially if you were gone for a relatively long time. Being away inevitably creates both a physical and emotional distance between you and your home country. In the process, two things happen:

  • The place changes: depending on how long you were gone, your home references might have changed. When I moved back to Europe after spending 4 years in California, streets had changed, freeways, stores, even the language.
  • You change: a trip or stay abroad triggers profound changes and when you get back, the way you feel about things at home changes.

Things that felt comforting are not comforting anymore, body language and other habits you’d never even noticed or thought of before feel alienating, the physical environment (streets, houses etc) just feels off, and let’s not even get started on how people talk.

Letting go

How do you deal with that? One aspect is letting go.

  • Letting go of the notion of home as a physical place because both it and you changed, and redefine what home means to you
  • Letting go of the idea that operating within a comfort zone is how things should be
  • Letting go of your definition of comfort zone and redefine what comfort means to you
  • Letting go of your resistance to reverse culture shock. By fighting it we just create more pain.

Letting go in this sense can be empowering. Think of it in terms of excess baggage you can let go of because you no longer need it. The process is difficult and painful but it is also profoundly enriching and empowering.

Can you relate? How has reverse culture shock affected you?

Republished with kind permission of H. E. Rybol via 6 things no one tells you about reverse culture shock – Culture Shock Toolbox.



Expatability Chat Podcast

If you’d prefer to listen to me talk about this topic, here is my podcast episode about reverse culture shock

Reverse Culture Shock and The Ex-Expat Club

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  1. Pingback: Newsroom - H.E. RYBOLH.E. RYBOL
  2. I have to say that I am 22 years old and have been struggling with being a TCK for about… 7 years after being back from China. It’s not so much the experience that haunts me – if anything it brought me wisdom behind my age and insight into the world. It’s that I have no roots. I did until I was 11 but they were dug up and thrown to the fire . Ever since then I’ve been trying to finds place on the world.. I spend time looking through old photos of my beginning years because they help me to remember that for a while there I had stability and security. My patents divorced just after we came back from China so that was just another thing to add to that messy box. I’m ok and I have hope for the future but there is this huge part of me that is a child and wants a place to call “home” – a place where I can always rely on to stay the same.

    1. Thank you for sharing, Caity. You are by no means alone with this ‘homelessness’, many, many people feel the same. And we all have that little child within, regardless of circumstance. I wish you all the very best for your future.

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