Reverse Culture Shock

Have you ever heard the phrase, “You can never go home again.”? Of course, you may travel to your home country after having been away, but your “home” will not be the same place you left. Just as you have changed from your experiences abroad, your home has changed as well. To prepare yourself for your return home, it is helpful to think about culture shock.

Culture shock is a phrase to describe a sense of confusion, anxiety, and uncertainty people sometimes feel when they move from one culture to another. Certainly, we expect it when we go somewhere completely new. We may not expect it when we return to the place we grew up after being away for some time. According to author Lisa Espineli Chinn, there are four phases we experience in culture shock. o our surprise, when we return home, we experience the phases again. We call this reverse culture shock.

The Phases

Fun: Fun is a word we use to describe having a good time. This word accurately describes what we experience when we return home. Perhaps we enjoy eating food unique to our part of the world or meeting family and friends once more. This is the happy phase of coming home.

Flight: Flight means to run away from. Believe it or not, there may be a time when the fun and newness wear off and life becomes overwhelming. There may be waves of sadness or confusion at the situation you are now facing.

Fight: Fight is to resist what you must adjust to. Perhaps you are facing problems at work or feelings of loneliness. The phase of fight is when you notice things you feel are not right about your own culture and you become impatient.

Fit: Fit is when you finally feel at ease with where you are at and you can accept the bad along with the good.

While you might be surprised at how difficult it may feel to fit in again, there are good reasons for why it can be so difficult. First, you have changed in more ways than you initially thought. Perhaps you are more accepting of other races and nationalities than you used to be. Or you’ve changed your political views or how education should work. But the people you return to have also changed. They have had experiences with others that you have missed out on while you were away. You may feel left out. In addition, they may understand little or may not show interest in what you have experienced in the United States and your travels. Adapting to home will take time. Some days you will have fun and other days, you will wonder why you came back. Suddenly you will find yourself better adjusted only to wake up the next morning remembering everything you don’t like about where you are at. Then, you find yourself at peace. Remember to be patient with yourself as you go back and forth in these phases. Change does not happen overnight.

Chinn recommends three strategies to help in reverse culture shock.

  1. The first is imitation. Do not try and replicate the life you had in the USA when you return home. Imitate your family and friends time schedules for work, eating, and friend and family time.
  2. Next, take some time to isolate yourself from others in order to process your feelings and the swirl of events you have experienced. Some people find journaling one’s thought and reflections helpful to make sense of the inner turmoil you may feel.
  3. Finally, there will be opportunities to integrate something of your life in the States with your life back home. Perhaps you have new interests, a new favorite food, or enjoy playing new games or sports. Gradually you will find a place for your memories and experiences in your life back home.

Life is a journey and journeys bring experiences that teach us how to live life in a better way. May your journey to and from the United States bring you joy and wisdom that you can share with others.

For additional help on leaving well and saying goodbye, check out these posts from last year on the Bridges Blog: Transitioning to a New “Home” and Goodbyes Stink. If you are a Christian and looking for a resource to help you prepare, I suggest the booklet called, Think Home, by Lisa Espineli Chinn. Also by Chinn, Back Home is a 30-day guide to help you process the change. Both books are written from a Christian perspective and contain thoughts and wisdom from the Bible.


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