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What Is Reverse Culture Shock (And How To Overcome It!)

home sweet home

Reverse Culture Shock? Really, yes really. It happens a lot. While living abroad may have caused you to experience some initial culture shock after the move, Reverse Culture Shock often comes as a surprise. While the initial adjustment to living in a new location may have tested you a lot, you proved to yourself and everyone around that you that you could do it. Adjusting well to your home away from home was not easy, but you eventually “got it.” And that’s wonderful! Congratulations.

But now, for whatever reason you have chosen it is the time for you to return home. You can’t wait to get back to being close to your family and friends, familiar foods and places. You know you will miss the location you have been living at, but the homesickness you have felt can’t even compete.

Your flight lands and you are hit with instant nostalgia. The smells are familiar but seem different, somehow. And you can’t help but be overjoyed when you go home and are met with your family and loved ones.

Does something seem off, though? You felt like a fish out of water when you moved and you didn’t expect to feel like that returning home. Sometimes this realization happens soon after return, but more often it is gradual. This is a very well known phenomenon known as Reverse Culture Shock.

What Is Reverse Culture Shock?

Basically, Reverse Culture Shock is defined as the feelings of confusion, surprise, or feeling disorientated when returning to one’s country of birth or origin. Returning home doesn’t always feel like hom, and this can be very disorienting. In another post, I talked about culture shock in-depth, feel free to check that out to get a better understanding of what initial culture shock is. 

How To Cope With Reverse Culture Shock?

Prepare Yourself Before You Move Back ‘Home’ – Home Is Different!

It might sound strange, but before you move back, make a pros and cons list. Write out what you missed most about your home country. But also make sure you list what didn’t miss too. The reason to do both of these things is it will help to prevent you from idealizing your home country.

It can help you to not feel let down when you go back and things aren’t as perfect as you thought they were when you were missing home. Life isn’t so binary, so it is normal to have mixed feeligns about going home AND it is also very normal to be surprised by the many ways your host culture feels like home too. 

Remind Yourself Of How You Changed (And Celebrate This)

You aren’t the same person you were before you moved abroad. You are likely more independent and confident that you can do anything you set your mind to. You should be proud that you were able to make this change and take the risk involved to live in another country. It takes a special kind of courage to do this. 

But when you return home, you could find yourself frustrated that everyone and everything seems to be exactly the same as when you left it, or even worse! Accept that you had a life-transforming experience while away and that those who never left, did not share this experience. And of course it’s no-one’s fault either. 

Your growth and improvement as a person may be different, but there’s nothing wrong with them staying the same, in the same way there is nothing wrong with you not staying the same. People are constantly changing, no matter if they make a big move or not. Take your time with rediscovering who everyone is and give them a chance to know the new you AND you a chance to get to know them again too. 

Communicate With Your Family Members And Friends

Just as you might be surprised at how little changed, those close to you are probably shocked as well. They likely never expected you to change as much as you did during your time away. And sometimes, they don’t even notice how much you have changed, especially in the beginning.

When this is happening, it’s important to communicate with one another honestly, openly and from a place of love. Make sure you tell them that while you are happy to be home with them, you are also missing your adopted country. It will help them realize why you aren’t just able to get back into the swing of things at your home country as they used to be. 

With that said, be sure to keep in touch with anyone you got close to when you moved to the new country. Thankfully, we are in a society with lots of technology that makes it easier than ever to communicate with people, almost instantly. Just because you are now long-distance friends does not mean that you can’t still be friends.

If you are struggling to cope with Reverse Culture Shock, you aren’t going crazy. Reverse culture shock is a very normal (albeit uncomfortable) process that many expatriates deal with at some point. And you don’t have to struggle on your own. Click HERE to learn more about therapy for expats.

As an expat therapist, who has been an expat myself many times AND has worked with expats for over a decade, I understand the unique joys and challenges that come with being an expatriate.If you are looking for specialist support from an expat therapist, who regularly provides expat counseling, please feel free to contact me at my Honolulu or London clinic to start learning about how expat counseling can help you.

CBT Test Drive

The right approach, tools and fit is a game changer. For this reason, I offer an Initial Test Drive session to see if working together could be a great fit for you. Each Test Drive lasts between 45-60 minutes and takes place within my Video Consulting Room. Based on the latest evidence, science, and my experience, I will aim to make concrete suggestions as to what I think can be most helpful for you.