You’re just back from your big adventure abroad and you’re excited to be home. Lots of people to see, things to do and stories to tell. And then it hits: anxiety. Your old life suddenly seems overwhelming. Your friends lose interest in your stories and you seem to be comparing everything here with everything there. You’ve got reverse culture shock.
Most people expect culture shock when leaving Canada for a lengthy amount of time – especially when going to work in the developing world.
It’s a simple cycle: upon arrival you’re bombarded with a new culture and in many cases a new language. In the beginning it’s all very exciting and interesting. This is the honeymoon phase. But then things become increasingly frustrating and difficult. Slowly you begin to adjust and eventually your new life becomes normal and you accept it. Congratulations! You’ve made the transition.
The opposite happens when you come home. Reverse culture shock or re-entry shock is also very common. People returning to Canada after being abroad for weeks, months or even years, begin to experience waves of uncertainty, confusion and anxiety. The life they left behind in Canada is suddenly foreign.
Signs of reverse culture shock include increased stress and anxiety, the inability to concentrate, irritability, withdrawal, and the big one – resenting your own culture.
But in the same way that people adapt to culture shock, they also adapt to reverse culture shock. After you’re back for a while, you’ll begin to recover and eventually reintegrate into your old life.
If you’re just returning from a long trip or living abroad, here are some tips that will help you make the transition back to the life you left behind:
1. Remind yourself that this is a completely normal experience. It may help to discuss your feelings with others who are in – or have gone through – the same situation. If you were working abroad, your employer or organization can likely give you some guidance.
2. Take things slow. If you don’t have to jump right back into your Canadian life then take a little time to relax. Avoid rush-hour and shopping malls for a few days – especially if you’ve been living in the slow lane.
3. Don’t take it personally if your friends aren’t as interested in your stories as you think they should be. Remember that they didn’t go through the experience you did and may have a hard time relating. If their eyes gloss over when you’re talking, ask them about their lives. Don’t just talk, listen. It’s also possible that they may be jealous of your adventure.
4. Stay in touch with the people you met when you were abroad. You won’t feel like you’ve left them all behind and they won’t feel like you just disappeared.
5. Don’t compare prices. Yes, things may seem really expensive. That pair of shoes might be equal to half of your old rent, but don’t forget that prices in many other countries are low simply because people don’t make much money. It’s all relative. Plus, you’ve had the best of both worlds, using our buying power in their economy.
6. Finding that life is suddenly boring? Looking for more of the excitement that you used to feel when living abroad? Get involved with new things here. Take classes, sign up for sports, volunteer. Add new and different things to your Canadian life.
7. Use your newfound cross-cultural skills to see your hometown from a different point of view. Be a tourist in your own city.
8. If you’re missing your adopted country, visit stores and restaurants that sell their food and other products.
9. Be prepared! Reverse culture shock will happen!
You may not have felt it at the time, but your experience abroad changed you. This is a sign that you’re not the same person you were. You have a whole new set of reference points. Your views and values may have changed and you’re likely to be much more independent and critical.
Accept that you’ve undergone substantial personal growth. After all, isn’t that why you sought out the experience in the first place?