Reverse Cultural Shock Is Real. How to Deal with It?

Reverse Cultural Shock Is Real. How to Deal with It?

You have returned home after your education in the U.S., and everything seems a little off. You don’t get the same pleasure after hanging out with your old friends, and you don’t relate to your own family anymore. You just don’t fit in!

You are experiencing reverse cultural shock. The disorientation is not a making of your mind, it is a cumulative outcome of multiple subtle changes.

Let us help you understand this phenomenon in depth. You’ll know how to combat this state of despair soon enough. 

Some common feelings you may be experiencing right now

The worst part of reverse cultural shock is that it makes you feel a lot of emotions you shouldn’t be feeling. This makes you guilty about your miserable state of mind, which makes things even worse!

Here are all the possible emotions reverse cultural shock can generate. Remember that it’s absolutely normal to feel this way.

  • Rootlessness
  • Missing people and places from abroad (reverse homesickness)
  • Isolation
  • Boredom
  • Insecurity
  • Uncertainty
  • Confusion
  • Frustration
  • Hopelessness
  • Wanting to be alone
  • Excessive sleeping
  • Change in goals or priorities
  • Feelings of alienation or withdrawal
  • Restlessness
  • Depression

These factors can make it worse for you

Not everyone suffers from reverse cultural shock in the same way or to the same extent. Ever wonder why? Is it just some people’s ironclad nature that makes the difference?

Absolutely not! There are technicalities involved with returning home that can either worsen or lessen the shock factor.

Although reverse cultural shock is beyond your control, knowing these technicalities will give you an advantage. If you can bend even a few of these in your favor, the shock will become bearable.

  • It’d feel a lot worse if you had to come back unwillingly. Voluntary re-entry is always better.
  • The same goes for having to return unexpectedly. You can be better prepared mentally if you are expecting your return.
  • Young adults find it more challenging to go home, as compared to older people who have gone through more transitions in life.
  • It can be extremely challenging if this is your first time re-entering your country after a foreign stint. The more times you do this, the easier it’ll get.
  • The longer you stay overseas, the more difficult it will be to adapt back at home. Revisiting your country often can ease the process.
  • The more involved you are with the foreign cultural, the more painful it’ll be to leave it behind.
  • If you are entering a familiar and supportive environment at home, the transition will be smoother (as opposed to an unfamiliar and hostile home environment).
  • The amount of interaction with home cultural also matters here. If you are familiar with the changes back home, it won’t be much of a shock.
  • When you are returning from an overseas sojourn in a foreign country whose cultural is vastly different from your own, resettling will be harder.

Six primary stages of reverse cultural shock

Any cultural shock has a U-curve. Your mental condition starts out really high, suddenly dips down low in the pits of darkness, and gradually rises back up towards the light again. Here are the specific stages of this process:

       1. Separation

Packing the bags, farewell parties, leaving your apartment or dorm, and saying your goodbyes can culminate in a feeling of intense sadness. You may be reluctant to leave. Some have a hard time even acknowledging that it’s all over now.

       2. Ecstasy

Sadness doesn’t last very long when you have something to look forward to. Your home, friends, family, food, and everything familiar awaits you. You might start feeling the butterflies once you board the flight.

It lasts for a good while after you land. Everyone doting on you back home sure feels great. You do all the things you had planned and have your fun. It’s called the “honeymoon” phase. However, the euphoria recedes faster than it emerged.

       3. Comparison

The cursed loop of compare-and-despair starts soon thereafter. You’ll catch yourself finding flaws in how things are done; be that on a national, social, or personal level. Comparing your home to the U.S is a fatal folly.

It might seem like everything is taken care of more efficiently in the U.S., so you can’t help but feel frustrated that people back home still resort to such inefficient measures.

       4. Agitation

Why do you have to stand in a long queue to access the ATM? Why are traffic laws so bizarre? What’s up with the tax system? You’ll never get answers to these questions.

There might be added frustrations like not being able to relate to others, or not getting your point through to someone. Settling into a routine pace of life might pose various unexpected challenges.

       5. Despair

When combined, all the previous factors can spiral into thinking you are worse off than before, or that you have somehow downgraded in life or missed out on better possibilities. You might also feel that you no longer belong anywhere. A deep misery will soon follow.

       6. Acceptance

Fortunately, this phase of reverse cultural shock is only temporary. With enough time, humans can turn any place into a home. 

Once you get accustomed to your new way of life, no matter how unwillingly, things will start looking up. It won’t be the same as it was before you left, but it will be even better since now you have a new lens with which to view the world.

Why is this happening? What can you do about it?

       1. You were not expecting this

You expect a cultural shock when you move to a foreign country, but you never expect it when you return to your own country.

Here are some ways of avoiding this double shock:

  • Stay in touch with friends and family. You should have an idea of what to expect when you get back to them.
  • Keep updated with local and national news in your homeland.
  • Know that despite all of your efforts, some things will still take you by surprise. You should expect to have difficulty readjusting.

       2. No one is really interested in your stories

You might be brimming with excitement to share all of your exciting stories, but you may find people listening reluctantly, or changing the topic pretty soon. This can be disheartening.

There could be numerous reasons for this—lack of interest, no relatability, jealousy, or other preoccupations. Whatever the listener’s reason might be, you should never take this personally.

Here are some alternative outlets you can try:

  • Journaling
  • Blogging
  • Connecting with other international students
  • Speaking to someone who is genuinely interested

       3. Home is not the same anymore

After a long period abroad, you return to find that your home has changed in multiple ways—

  • it is certainly different from what you are used to,
  • it has drastically changed from the way you had left it behind, and
  • it is not the way you expected it to be.

This is the most jarring aspect of reverse cultural shock. You might feel like you don’t have a home anymore. The only thing you can do about it is to accept the change. Try and get used to it.

       4. The mind-numbing boredom

Life hardly ever gets as interesting or fun as your college days. This applies tenfold if you are an international student. No more road trips, sudden plans, and partying with your friends on Mondays.

The lack of excitement causes a drop in serotonin and dopamine levels, making you feel particularly depressed about staying home on a Friday night.

It is entirely up to you to make your life exciting, though. Exciting activities can still be planned. Most importantly, you should realize that this is the beginning of a mature and responsible life—you shouldn’t be trying to live your college life after it is over.

       5. You have grown in a different way

Living abroad can be a life-changing experience. It significantly alters people’s personalities, perspectives, value systems, and priorities. You are an evolved person by the time you return.

But people back home might not have evolved in the same way, or even evolved at all. Your relationships with them have changed now. This is a permanent change that cannot be undone.

So what can you do?

Seek out people and life experiences that are in alliance with the person you are today, and don’t hold on to old ties for the sake of it.

       6. Loss of independence

After years of being left to your own devices, it doesn’t feel great to report to your parents for every little thing. Well, this is something you’ll have to make your peace with if you have decided to move back in with your parents.

You can always have a conversation with them about needing your own space, but in the long run, moving out is the better alternative.

       7. You miss what you left behind

“Ah, those were the good old days,” are words you’ll be saying in your head quite often. You can always keep in touch with your old pals, but it will never be the same. It’s better to accept that.

Your college experiences wouldn’t be so unique if they could be replicated. Instead, be grateful for the time you had, and look forward to more happy times ahead. They will come, no matter how unlikely it seems right now.

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