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Reverse Culture Shock: What To Expect When You Return From Overseas

You’ve just come back to Australia from a long stint abroad when it happens. You start to feel… uneasy. You feel lonely. You feel like you’ve missed out on things. And you feel misunderstood. You’re experiencing reverse culture shock.

If you haven’t heard of the term before, it’s the one used to describe the discomfort people feel coming back to their home country after significant time away.

“When a person heads to a new country, they expect things to be different so there might be culture shock at first,” says Emi Golding, Director of Psychology at Workplace Mental Health Institute.

“When coming back home though, it’s often a surprise to people just how accustomed they had become to the foreign country. What once used to be familiar can feel very foreign.”

Reverse culture shock will fade as you spend more time at home but it can be surprising and challenging. Here, we’ve listed a few of the feelings you might experience. And don’t worry, these feelings definitely don’t mean you shouldn’t travel – the more you know the better you can deal!

You Might Feel Misunderstood

reverse culture shock

Image: Dimitar Belchev / Unsplash

In the time you’ve been away, it’s inevitable that you’ll have changed. You were exposed to a new way of living – maybe you saw noodles being eaten for breakfast in Asia, partygoers begin their night at 1am in Europe or diners at restaurants leave massive tips in the USA. Whatever it was, you now have another perspective on life. Even if you try to explain what you’ve just experienced to others, they can’t possibly “get it” without having been there. You’re going to feel misunderstood.

“One of the best ways to help with this is to connect with other people who’ve spent long periods of times overseas too and might have a better understand of what you’re going through,” says Golding.

“Everyone’s experience will be different – some might not have had any trouble fitting back in ­– but in my experience, that’s the exception.”

You Might Feel Boring (DW, You’re Not)

reverse culture shock

Though it’ll depend on where exactly you went (and how much attention you got on your socials) you might have felt “special” while you were away and gotten used to that. Maybe people you met got excited about hearing about your home country. Or maybe everyone noticed you when you walked down the street.

Then when you’re back home, that’ll no longer be the case (unless you’re a celebrity or really, really, ridiculously good-looking). And that can feel like a loss.

“Take your time and be patient as you settle back in,” says Golding. “You’ll start to create a new life where you’ll have new friends who think you’re pretty special just for being you – not just because you’re different.”

You’ll Realise You Missed Out On Things

This may come as a huge surprise to you but while you were away, your friends – ready for it? – kept hanging out. It sounds obvious, but it’s something that you probably didn’t think about while you were busy doing your own thing. Then you’re back, armed with stacks of stories to share, and you realise: they have loads of their own.

“Remind yourself that while you might have missed out on a few jokes, you have instead had some amazing experiences that your friends haven’t had. For better or for worse, you chose to go,” says Golding. “Spend time together and create new memories and experiences.”

It Might Take Time To Fit Back In

reverse culture shock

Image: Joshua Ness / Unsplash

There’s a good chance you may have begun to act differently while you were away. You might bring those habits and ways of looking at the world back home and then start to get confused. Where do you fit in now? Where do you consider home?

Golding says the key to combating this is to remember that belonging is more than being just about culture and accents. It’s about relationships and feeling connected to people.

“Don’t give up on your old friends,” she advises. “Continue to connect and spend time with them, but also be open to creating new friendships.”

Home May Seem Different

Having experienced other ways of living, when you’re back home again, you may start to see some problems in the way your friends and family look at things. You might start to wonder why your home country doesn’t do things the way your overseas country did. You’ll start to question home and will no longer accept things the way they are.

“This is really about coming to accept that no one is perfect. No country has got everything right,” says Golding. Her advice?

“Think about what you can do to live your life the way that works best for you. Later, if you want to change the world or travel it – go for it. But right now, it’s about getting settled back in and creating that lifestyle that works for you. Get into a routine of study or work, and let the dust settle from your overseas experience.”

Now you know all about reverse culture shock, read more about why we do what we do when we travel.

Check out Qantas flights and begin your next adventure.

(Lead image: Erik Odiin / Unsplash)