Is home still where your heart is? Learning about reverse culture shock

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So you finally went back to your home country for a vacation. It must have been nice after all those years of being away. No? You were disappointed? Lost? Frustrated? You missed Canada?

You must have gone through reverse culture shock.

What is reverse culture shock?

Reverse culture shock is when you go back to your home country and feel out of place. This is usually experienced by people who return from having travelled or lived in other countries for several years. They may feel confused and frustrated when their expectations about their home country are not met – familiar things have changed, people have moved on, and you feel like you don’t belong. In short, your home doesn’t feel like home anymore.

Let me be clear. Not everyone experiences reverse culture shock. But there are many who do and don’t know that they are experiencing it. Not much attention is given to the transition that people go through when they go back to their home country. And we don’t really prepare for coming home because, in our minds, we expect that everything will naturally fall into place. Shock sets in when we are faced with massive changes. This is the root cause of this phenomenon.

Just like culture shock, reverse culture shock has phases. At first, you are excited to be home, seeing friends and family, catching up on things. When this wears off, you may feel detached, frustrated, and isolated. But as you begin to let go of your expectations and get used to what is new, you learn to adjust. With acceptance, you start to regain emotional and psychological stability. There is no set period of time for each phase. It can be a matter of weeks for some, and for others, months or years.

What are the signs that you’re experiencing reverse culture shock?

Do your friends give you the side-eye whenever you begin your sentence with “Back in Canada,…” and begin comparing things in your new country to things in your home country? Are they uninterested when you begin telling them about your life here?

Do you have trouble joining conversations with friends because you can’t relate to the topic or understand their jokes? Do you have trouble dealing with your friends in general because they have changed jobs or statuses?

Do you go out of your way to look for Canadian food or brands?

Do you suddenly miss your life in Canada?

These are unmistakable signs that you are suffering from reverse culture shock. According to Debra Jones, in her article “6 Ways to cope with reverse culture shock” some may even experience physiological signs of stress, like “excessive sleep or trouble sleeping, lack of appetite, mood swings, and excessive tiredness. You may feel surprised, angry, lonely, disoriented, irritable, confused, and frustrated. The outright lack of belongingness ultimately leads to depression.”

5 ways to cope with it

  1. Take time to adjust – leave your expectations behind and try to appreciate the new things in your hometown. When your family or friends take you around, savour the experience. Get re-acquainted with friends and listen when tell you what they have been up to. You will always be asked to share, but respect the fact that not everyone will be interested in a long narrative. Most of all, accept the truth that things change (you, yourself have changed) and life goes on.
  2. Share what you are feeling – it is good to be open to close family members or friends. Tell them about the shock that you are experiencing. It will lessen the stress and it will also help them understand. But if you feel that they will be less sympathetic, start a journal or a blog. Getting your feelings out there may help you sort them out. Somebody who is experiencing the same thing as you may also benefit from knowing that they are not alone.
  3. Seek new experiences– remember when you were adjusting to your new country? Didn’t it help to explore new places to discover new sights and sounds? Didn’t it make you feel good the first time you tasted poutine and realized that you liked it? In your hometown, ask a friend to bring you to the newest hotspots in the city, or go to the most popular restaurants for a food trip. Get out there and re-discover your home!
  4. Maintain contact with people from abroad– give them a call, Skype chat, Facebook message or post, or send them an email. Catch up with things back in your host country. Ask about things that you miss and ask for updates about familiar things.
  5. Relax and stay positive– Relax, you’re on vacation after all. Always keep an open mind and positive outlook. Now that you know how reverse culture shock feels, maybe you’ll be more prepared the next time you visit.

Source: Reverse culture shock: What, when and how to cope, Audrey Sykes, Expatica. Accessed on March 2, 2017.

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