Going to a place you have never been to can be an uncomfortable and frightening experience for some people, especially those who have never travelled before. When they arrive at their destination, they are surprised at the major differences between their home culture and the one they have just entered. After a while, most travelers become accustomed to the changes in culture and even start to like the change. The differences that they thought were weird or different at first have now become things that they look forward to or prefer. Then it comes towards the end of the trip and it’s time to go home. When you arrive back home is when you can start to experience something called reverse culture shock.
Culture shock is the state of being in which people are exposed to major cultural differences, become surprised and confused by these differences, and then must try to become accustomed to the changes. Reverse culture shock is similar, in that it is the state of being in which the person has experienced a totally different culture, become accustomed to it, and now must readjust themselves back to their home culture. People who have returned from a long trip in a different culture often experience reverse culture shock. They often find themselves comparing the way things are done in their home country to the way it is done in another culture, and sometimes even preferring the latter.
“You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart always will be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.” – Miriam Adeney
Reverse culture shock doesn’t just affect a person’s preferences. It can also affect their body. Many times when people stay in a different culture and their body adjusts to the local food and drink, their body can react badly when returning home. For example, when I stayed in Italy for around 5 months, my body adjusted to the better quality of food and drink versus the U.S. I was ingesting things that had less chemical content and were better for me. When I returned to the U.S. and tried to eat food that I would normally at home, my body reacted badly. I was sick for a few days after returning home. My body finally adjusted back to normal, but the initial reaction was very unpleasant.
Another major problem with reverse culture shock is that it can often times leave people in a depressive state. When you have spent a long amount of time away from home and have learned to enjoy the differences in culture, coming back to normalcy can leave you feeling like something is missing from your life. You start to miss the differences that you were experiencing every day and begin to fall into a mild form of depression. This can last for days, weeks, even months after you have returned home. All of your thoughts seem to revolve around how much you miss those differences that initially confused you. Being in your own normal culture is now making you feel worse than being in a different culture.
The good news is that there are many ways to help get over the dreadful state of reverse culture shock. These can include:
- Talking with people who have travelled to the same destination.
- Keeping in contact with any friends you made abroad.
- Attend a re-entry conference/meeting (great option for study abroad students).
- Try cooking some meals you had abroad.
- Write about your experiences (either in a journal or start a blog).
- Begin planning for a return trip!
Doing these things, and many others, will eventually get you out of the awful rut that reverse culture shock puts you in. Have you experienced reverse culture shock? What did you do to overcome it? Let us know in the comments!
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