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Reverse Culture Shock: the good, the bad, and the utterly bizarre

The weeks and days leading up to moving abroad look more or less the same for everyone: constant back and forth between nerves and excitement, everyone you encounter asking if you’re ready, packing crises and double, triple, quadruple checks of travel documents. And of course culture shock worries that will make your head spin: What will it be like? Can I live without peanut butter? Will I like the food? How easy in the transportation system? Do I even speak Spanish?!

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Yep, anticipating culture shock to the point of obsession is totally normal no matter who you are and where you are going. But what we all tend to give less thought to is what will happen on the other end of your journey. I’m talking re-entry and reverse culture shock.

Re-entry might feel a little different depending on where you are and when you’re coming back. Whether or not you’ve traveled before and how long you’ve been away from home are big factors. If returning home from my second 8-month jaunt in France was difficult, I can’t imagine what it would be like to come back from a one to two year stint in a non-Western country. Still, I think it’s safe to say that everyone—everyone—experiences some degree of reverse culture shock.

Here’s the good, the bad, and the utterly bizarre things you will experience upon re-entry:

The good:

    • Friends and family. This is by far the most exciting things about coming home after being abroad for an extended period of time. It's a mini reunion party everywhere you go!
    • Home cooked food. Your mom is so happy to have you back that she’ll cook you all your favorite meals for about a week (warning: this wears off quickly so take advantage while you can). Plus your dog is there. 
    • Everything is so darn easy! You know exactly where everything is located in your home town: Your bank, post office, grocery store, favorite restaurants—they’re all right there. Plus, no language barrier! You’re suddenly the most competent person in the world. #adulting

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The bad:

  • Missing foreign friends and family. Returning to one set of friends and family inevitably means leaving another. The first couple days back will have you feeling a little off kilter in light of their absence.
  • No more delicious, foreign food. This is one of the greatest tragedies of leaving abroad life—no more melt in your mouth baguettes or steaming bowls of bun cha or juicy, green olives. Get ready to cling to any restaurant that comes close to recreating your favorite delicacies.
  • Everything is so darn easy! Yep, this is a good and a bad. While knowing your home town by the back of your hand feels nice for a while, it will eventually feel too The challenges of living abroad can be exciting and overcoming them results in incomparable growth.

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The utterly bizarre:  

    • Everyone is speaking English! It is so weird to walk around and not have to have your translating hat on all the time. Get ready for the first time you try to order a coffee in a different language.
    • Readjusting to customs and rituals. No more cheek kisses, no more language barrier, no more wondering which greeting you should use or how to address someone. The customs and rituals that were once second nature suddenly feel foreign!     
    • Going back to “the real world.” For many travelers, going home often means buckling down. Desk jobs and time clocks can feel really strange for people who have just spent a year or more in an unconventional work setting like a foreign classroom.

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In your moments of panic and frantic searches for plane tickets back, take time to remind yourself that switching gears can take some time. Re-entry should be treated as delicately as initial culture shock since it is similar in so many ways. Be patient with yourself and those around you who might not fully understand the experience you’ve just come from.  

For those who have yet to squash their travel bugs, remember that travel isn’t going anywhere—especially with the option to teach English. A nomadic lifestyle requires some give and take so if you’re not ready to be done, trust that you’ll find a way back after some time of hard work and patience.

Good luck with the good, the bad, and the utterly bizarre aspects of re-entry and remember, we’re all in it together!

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