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Reverse culture shock, yes it is a thing

A man experiencing reverse culture shock on top of a building in New York City.

Chances are you’ve heard of culture shock, you know that pesky little thing you may experience when you go to a new place for the first time. Pretty well-known right? But, have you heard of reverse culture shock? I hadn’t either, until I experienced it first-hand.

What is reverse culture shock?

Reverse culture shock is the struggle to re-acclimatise to your surroundings, particularly the surroundings of your home. Everyone always talks about how nice it is to be home – so, what happens when you don’t feel the same? Instead, you may be feeling alienated, out of place and uncomfortable.

How does it manifest?

At first, home may feel shiny and new; you relish in the fact you are no longer living out of a suitcase, you get to see your friends and family and eat all the foods you’ve been missing. Until everyone is going about their lives, the ones they’ve continued in your absence and you begin to feel stuck. You’ve found yourself back at home, where everything is almost the same as how you left it. You on the other hand are very, very different. You’ve returned with all these new experiences, friends and passions, but expressing these new-found feelings is challenging. Plus, pretty quickly your friends and family may tire of hearing about them. To put it more eloquently, you still somewhat fit into the mould that is your life back home, but the fit isn’t quite right (and no I’m not talking about all the carbs you ate in Europe).

Feelings such as a lack of motivation, restlessness, boredom, and disengagement are very common. It is almost as if you are in limbo – not away but not home either. So, what now – how do you get back to the home you know and love?


What can you do?

Communication is important. Talk to your loved ones, tell them about your experience. It may get frustrating that they don’t understand, but remember they are trying their hardest to relate. Additionally, know when to stop. Stick to titbits here and there, but don’t forget to ask about them, they still had lives when you were gone – even if you think theirs are a bore compared to yours. Find other outlets, whether that be finding other people in the same boat as you or starting a blog or journal. This way you can share your stories without limitations.

Two men experiencing reverse culture shock while conversing in a park.

Stay busy. You may feel like curling up on the couch and eating your feelings but that will only get you so far (trust me, I may or may not have tried that method). Getting back out there will make your time fly and your days much more manageable. Feeling a lack of motivation or boredom? Become a tourist in your own town. Do some research and find something new you haven’t done before.  Better yet, try and integrate activities you did away into your daily home life. Loved the food culture on your trip? Take a cooking class. Loved the hikes? Find local hiking destinations. Loved the social aspect? Join groups and make new friends.

A group of people experiencing reverse culture shock eating donuts at a table.

Keep travelling. Just because you’re at home, doesn’t mean you have to lose that sense of adventure. Use your weekends and holidays to keep the travel bug in you satisfied. Never stop chasing the thrill that travelling gives you, even if it is domestically. You’ll find that planning your next trip, where ever it may take you will give you something to work towards and look forward to.

A man experiences reverse culture shock while photographing the Sydney Opera House with his phone.

Be patient. Getting back to reality will take time. You’ll have good days and bad days – it will be an emotional journey, but you’ll get there. And look if all else fails, quit your job and book a one-way flight back to paradise. The rest will sort itself out.