Dealing with reverse culture shock

Gepubliceerd op 8 april 2021 om 18:55

Departures are arrivals. The moment you walked out the door back home, you were already on your way back home again – no matter how long you were going away for; otherwise, after all, you would have become an immigrant. A traveler departs home only to arrive back home again after a wicked adventure. He may be on the road for years, but he’s never on the road forever.

Coming home is perhaps one of the hardest parts of the entire adventure and almost always underestimated by the people who were left behind. Your friends at home expect you to be happy to see them again, to be craving the meals you are so familiar with, to be wearing the clothes that didn’t fit into your backpack. And you yourself are looking forward to be home again, too. Logically, while being abroad you missed those familiar faces and places. Home is called “home” for a reason.

Soon after arriving, however, you may find that the initial happiness of being home wears off very quickly. You have grown as a person in such a way that you now feel you can no longer relate to the very environment you were once a part of. The most daunting aspect is possibly that your friends are visibly tired of hearing your stories within ten minutes, which makes you feel alienated. There is, what we shall call here, “reverse homesickness”: you want to go back to the place you had started to view as your new hometown. And you feel bored with the familiar because you had expected things to have changed, and extremely restless to face the unfamiliar again because you now know that that’s what makes you tick.

Here is a little secret: you are the one who returns and thought that things had changed. They hadn’t, right? Same girlfriends, same jobs, same cars. And you think: these people haven’t progressed at all in life. And you think: but I did – I learned things while I was away. With the latter you are right, with the former you are wrong. Everybody progresses everyday. They have all moved on. In fact, they moved on in the world you took a break from (unless you went to study abroad, etc.). It is that confrontation that makes returning home hard.

All this is part of reverse culture shock, an often unexpected feature of the travel adventure that is also known as post-travel depression. But the cure to a depression is often lengthy and includes medicines, whereas reverse culture shock only needs time. There are travelers who think that planning the next trip is the only remedy, which is untrue. That is when you effectively become society’s escapee, the one who says “They don’t understand me anymore! I’m out of here!” And that is truly the wrong motivation to plan your next adventure, because you didn’t plan your previous adventure for that reason, or did you now? The first adventure was a blast because you did it for the sake of the trip itself, not to escape reverse culture shock.

It is time we need and the good news is that there are several things you can do to help the process.

First of all, keep in touch with the people you had considered your new friends. You will see that there is less to talk about since you are no longer part of the foreign circle and contacts will fade out. This in itself is a harsh reality to come to terms with, but it filters out the real friends and they are the ones you will ultimately miss – a smaller group, often reduced to only one or two persons.

Since sharing your stories from abroad is so hard among the friends at home, find other ways to share your adventures. Keeping a diary on the spot is always a good idea, and then blogging about it once you get home is perhaps the best way to share your stories, because your audience consists of people who want to know what you have to say. If you have a new trip coming up, the blog can serve as the “bridge” between the two adventures.

You can also integrate lessons you have learned into your life back home. That way, you make who you are now a part of the old you (who, yes, you are slowly returning to). This could include meals, habits, maintaining routines.

What does not help is to move away from the person who you have become. Upon returning home, you had expected that everything had changed. Johnny would surely have a new girlfriend, and Danny would have gotten a new job by now, and Donald and Maureen, the old couple next door, surely would have died. But you returned to a world you knew, where nothing had changed. Instead, you have changed. The new you is plunged into the good old hometown, as if a transformation has taken place.

Moving away from the person who you have become is personal betrayal. You have become a better person who needs to remember that going through reverse culture shock is still part of the adventure that made you that better person. It’s a transition towards integrating the new you into the familiar world.

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