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? 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 those who return after 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 they feel like they don’t belong. In short, home doesn’t feel like home anymore.

Not everyone experiences reverse culture shock. But there are many who do and don’t know that they are experiencing it. After all, not much attention is given to the adjustment that people go through when they go back. We don’t really prepare for coming home because, in our minds, our home country will always be as we imagine it. Shock sets in when we are faced with massive changes. This is the root cause of this shock.

Just like regular culture shock, reverse culture shock has phases. At first, you are excited to be home, reuniting with friends and family, and catching up on things. Later on, something happens and the excitement wears off. You may feel detached, frustrated, and isolated. 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 amount of time for each phase. It can take a few days for some. Others need to adjust for months, even 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 physical 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 – Forget your expectations and 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 story. Most of all, accept the truth that things change (you, yourself have changed) and life goes on.
  2. Share what you are feeling – Be open to family members and friends. Tell them about the shock you are experiencing. This will lessen your stress and also help them understand. If they’re not sympathetic, start a journal or a blog. Publish it or post it on social media if you need an audience. Getting your feelings out may help you sort them out. It can also help others who may be in the same boat as you.
  3. Seek new experiences– Remember when you were adjusting to your new country? Exploring new places and discovering new things helped ease homesickness. 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 your Canadian friends a call, Skype chat, or send them an email. Catch up with things back in your host country. Ask about things that you miss.
  5. Relax and stay positive– 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.

Article updated January 31, 2023.
Source: Reverse culture shock: What, when and how to cope, Audrey Sykes, Expatica. Accessed on March 2, 2017.

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