What does ‘reverse culture shock’ mean? Reverse culture shock is after you have been in a foreign country (or more than one) for a period of time and have adjusted to the food, language, customs, and culture- and then you come BACK to your home of record and experience feelings of isolation, discomfort, depression, tiredness, nervousness, and other similar emotions. These can range from merely uncomfortable to very intense.
Some novel travelers may question why or how someone could feel reverse culture shock. Haven’t we lived in our home country our whole lives and are accustomed to our own culture and customs? Yes, we have- however, it is after being OUTSIDE of this home country and completely expanding our minds to fit in other languages and customs, that we see our culture in a completely different light. Coming home can be challenging in many ways because a traveler may have grown accustomed to a different style of living. Even if our culture is the same as before, it’s hard to be up-ended again. Reverse culture shock can also be difficult when our friends and family have not had the same experiences as us and don’t understand how difficult of a transition coming home can be.
I’ve experienced reverse culture shock multiple times throughout my five years of traveling, and developed an effective method to make the adjustment home as easy as possible. Here are five simple steps to counter reverse culture shock:
1) Get into the time zone immediately.
Jet lag: refuse to let it get to you. Even if you’ve been halfway around the world and on a different time schedule, you MUST go to sleep on the same time schedule in your home country, even if you’re dead tired and have to wait all day. This is the first and most important step to adjusting back home.
2) Unpack as soon as possible.
When I used to come home, I would throw all of my bags and packages in one corner of my room and let them sit there for days, not bringing myself to unpack. It is very important to settle back in to your life as soon as possible when you have reverse culture shock. I’ve found that things become a lot easier when I’ve unpacked and put everything away within the first day or two of coming home.
3) Be patient with yourself–and with others.
It’s easy to feel frustrated, guilty, or downright angry while you’re adjusting back to home. Most people have a hard time identifying with your experiences abroad and don’t see the changes you’ve gone through. You may feel irritated by things that never bothered you before you left–for example, when I came back from India for the first time and had spent months living in poor and rural areas, I felt extremely guilty about leaving any food on my plate–something that I never thought twice about before traveling. Be patient with yourself. It is OKAY and normal to feel disoriented, frustrated, or guilty. Rejecting these feelings will do nothing but exacerbate reverse culture shock. Be patient with your friends and family as well. It’s hard to remember that others haven’t had the same experiences as you or seen the same things, but don’t push new expectations on people that aren’t receptive to them.
4) Be honest with those around you about how you’re feeling.
Be upfront with your friends and family about how you’re feeling. They may not be able to understand reverse culture shock, but telling them that you’re going through a hard readjustment period will let them know that it’s not personal. When I first started experiencing reverse culture shock, I would come home and sulk, thinking that no one understood me. This resulted in blow-up fights with friends and family that could have been avoided if I was just honest about how I felt. They may not understand what you’ve been through, but your friends and family still love you and support you.
5) Plan your next adventure.
Setting little goals for yourself is a great way to keep yourself busy, and make you excited and motivated about the next path in front of you. Whether your next adventure includes climbing Mount Everest, or checking out all of the conveniences in your supermarket, plan things that you can look forward to. Don’t let the adventures stop!
All of these little things have made adjusting back to the United States much easier for me every time I come home. While reverse culture shock is difficult and it takes time to acclimate back to your old life, things will get easier with time. Just focus on loving yourself, and cherishing your wonderful memories.
Brittany Boroian is a current Peace Corps Volunteer in Paraguay, and will use this guide as her bible when she moves back to the United States in August. All opinions are of her own creation and do no reflect the positions, views, or intents of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps. For more on life in Paraguay and traveling the world, visit http://brittanygoesglobal.com.