Reverse Culture Shock; The Romancing and Eventual Disappointment of your Home Nation.

Prepare for Reverse Culture Shock.

We’ve been home for almost a year now and I would be lying if I said it was easy. Our house hunting trip was last April and it did not go as planned. When we finally had boots on the ground and properly moved into our current house in Canada, there were a lot of little things that took a while to get used to.

The kids weren’t adjusting well to their new schools; they didn’t understand why we had to stand and sing “a stupid song about Canada” every morning, their peers were now monochromatic and had zero life experience beyond the city limits. They had seen the world, and now they were being tied down in a new city that was essentially foreign to them. They, too, suffered.

This article explains what happens when culture shock is reversed

Death by a thousand cuts.

It was the little things; sidewalks that lead to nothing, buses running 10 minutes, endless shopping centres without a single tree or green space, 100 km/hr speed limits on the highways…Germany was so different. And the same.

These aren’t anything that one should be upset about. And yet, I had forgotten about these subtle differences and they were absolutely annoying. Why is so darn hot when I am walking down the street… because there isn’t a tree in sight. Germany has trees lining sidewalks and major roads for this very reason; to keep the heat down. The lack of green literally made my eyes hurt and heartache. All this concrete was overwhelming and disheartening.

We ate at restaurants a lot when we first arrived – unfortunate side effect of your household goods not arriving for a month and your hotel not having a decent kitchen. We started out at our formerly favorite (inexpensive) restaurants; East Side Marios, St Hubert, Kelsey’s. But it wasn’t the same. The sauce was bland, the pasta was overcooked, the wings were dry. Having eaten pasta in Italy, an American-Italian high turnaround eatery in downtown Ottawa was never going to compare.

My favourite wine is also only available at a handful of liquor stores throughout the city and cost twice the price; 4.99€ to $12.99. But at least I can collect Air Miles right! The meat quality isn’t the same, neighbours have overly expensive homes stacked one on top of another, and the street parking!

Oh My God, I thought Germans had a parking problem. At least they built their streets with this problem in mind, and people knew how to properly drive down streets littered with parked cars. I have yet to encounter a drive that is capable of staying on their side of the road and waiting their turn patiently while oncoming traffic passes.

^^ This^^

This is me not dealing well with reintegration. I have romanticized life back in Canada while we were away. The way one ignores the bad times and only focuses on the good when at their 20 year High School reunion.

I’ve forgotten about the underfunded public school system, ridiculous wait times to be taken in as a patient by a family doctor, the red tape we have to jump through just to get something down just so someone else isn’t liable should something go wrong. I truly believed that Canada was the best country in the world to live in and all those micro-annoyances we had in Germany would be gone from our lives because we would be HOME. Home is perfect. Home is better. Home is where we can relax and share our stories…but none of that happened.

No one cares where we went. No one cares that my son had his first ice skating experience on the Eiffel Tower, in fact, his classmates were mocking him for it. He was bullied at school because he couldn’t count on one hand how many countries he has visited in his short 7 years he’s been alive (11 countries by the way). They laughed and said his sister wasn’t a real Canadian because she was technically born overseas. Someone makes a funny joke about a location and we shyly remind them that we have been there, and this isn’t true. But that’s being a know-it-all. So we stay quiet.

We have all of these stories that we want to share, but so does everyone else. They had a great time at the zoo last week. Awesome. We went to Rome for a long weekend. They went to grandmas for March Break and painting the Garage door. Cool. We went to Scotland to visit a cousin during Spring Break.

It’s not a competition. And yet it is. And no one wants to lose, so they stop asking. And we stop telling.

Reverse Culture Shock is hard. And lonely. And crippling. No one wants to feel these things about their home. I’m a loyal Canadian, I love my country and everything she stands for… but maybe I can love her more, from over there. Somewhere where the price of gas and access to Romain Lettuce that isn’t contaminated with E.Coli isn’t as difficult.

Frequent travelers and expats often experience ‘reverse culture shock’ — here’s what that is and how to deal with it

  • Reverse culture shock occurs when you return home after immersing yourself in a different culture.
  • Symptoms can range from boredom to isolation.
  • Adjusting back to your routine at home can be extremely difficult

Moving home isn’t always easy – many who repatriate feel different and utterly out of touch. The hardest part about dealing with reverse culture shock is that it is unexpected and unanticipated; we aren’t moving to a new country or learning a new language, this is our home. We were raised here for 30 some odd years before taking a short 4-year break, why would I have problems integrating into my own culture?

Like culture shock, reverse culture shock has a number of stages; at first, you may be excited to return home – seeing friends and family members, wearing the rest of your wardrobe, and eating at your favourite restaurants. This initial euphoria eventually wears off, and that’s when you find yourself feeling out of place in your own culture.

Prepare for Reverse Culture Shock.

Signs of reverse culture shock

Reverse culture shock can result in unexpected difficulty in readjusting to the culture and values of the home country, now that the previously familiar has become unfamiliar.

As you’ve settled into your foreign location, you’ve spent less time in your home culture. Surrounding yourself with people from home, eating food from home or watching tv from home, only delays the inevitable. It’s never the same.

Upon return, not only is home different from what you are now used to, different from your new normal, but it may be different from what it was when you left, and different from what you expected it to be like.

Grass is always greener…

We believe that everything we have seen while away, everything wrong with our host country, is so much better at home. We have the answers for everything and why can’t these countries just talk to each other and help each other grow for the betterment of humanity.

Once home though, you slowly learn that home isn’t as perfect as we believed. There are problems that we never noticed until now, we don’t actually do these things better, and home could probably learn a few things from our host country as well.

Your home country now drives you crazy.

This also leads to the eventual tearing down of our home country and nitpicking every little thing that is wrong with it. Your host country didn’t have this specific problem, therefore it was better, you want to go back immediately. We have placed Home on such a pedestal, that there is no way for home to win this fight.

You’re an emotional roller coaster

Remember that culture shock is a lot like the stages of grief and especially when you come home, you are grieving the loss of a life abroad, a city, many people you loved and a culture. That’s a whole lot of things to grieve. So, just like people tell you while grieving, know that waves of emotion will hit you all the time and at unexpected times.

You feel totally alone.

Remember all those times that you fantasized about hanging out with family and friends? All those parties you knew you were missing, life events, great nights out, fun times…..Remember all those messages you got from people saying how much they missed you and wanted you to come home? Well, this is the weird part. Their lives didn’t actually stop when you left!

Coming home from abroad is like visiting your home town after being away at college for a year. Everything has stayed the same, and yet has changed all at the same time. Friends and family filled the gap you left in their lives, employers have replaced you, new laws have come into policy and you are left playing catch-up.

Inability to apply new knowledge and skills

You have learned all of these amazing life-skills and specific knowledge that was required for being expat – none of which applies to your new life back home. You are so proud to show off your new skills, or hone in on them and make great use of them in the workforce, but sadly there is very little in terms of employment available for someone with those specific skills.

You have changed.

You have changed forever. There is no going back. Your experience, time away and everything that you have gone through has changed you, for better or worse.

This is not a bad thing! People are supposed to change, grow, adapt. You have seen the world from a unique angle and thus have a unique perspective on age-old conversations. Embrace it, don’t be embarassed by it.

Find people who have gone through massive changes as well. Obviously, other repats would be a good place to start but it doesn’t have to be just repats.

Talk about the experience, but respect that not everyone wants to hear it.

People at home aren’t as interested in hearing about your foreign experience as you are in telling them about it. 

Talking about your experience is essential and part of the readjustment process and your friends and family do need to hear it and try to understand, but…know when to stop. Only bring up tidbits at a time, and try to remember to ask them about their last few years as well, even if they weren’t living abroad, they still went through stuff.

You miss the lifestyle you may have enjoyed abroad.

Companies that employ expats tend to be very generous with their salaries. They understand it is hard being so far away from your friends and family back home and so they tend to pay a little ( a lot) more than they would for the same job title back home. And this is great until it’s gone.

With all of that money, all of that time to explore your new surroundings, you have created a specific lifestyle for yourself and your family. You probably also didn’t save much of it because who wants to save when you can travel – true story.

But when the day finally comes to move back home, those entitlements and incentives disappear. You are now back to your old lifestyle and costs-of-living.

You aren’t special anymore

You’re the exotic foreigner, people want to hear about you and where you are from. They want to talk to you. You miss the celebrity status of being an “Expat” overseas — at home, you don’t stand out as much.

There are people who will see this and value it and think it is amazing and eventually your time abroad will start to shape your time at home. Again, it just takes time. Remember that no one can take this experience away from you. 

You are in a constant state of missing and comparing life to the place you left – reverse homesickness

It’s so easy to look at a place that you aren’t currently living in through rose-coloured glasses. The grass is always greener, right? And for the first many months (or more) when you get home you think of everything you are missing or left behind. You know there is a reason, or many, that you left, but it takes all your will power not to hop on a plane back every single day. Then you find yourself missing foods and drinks like crazy.

Well, you can get a few of those things here but you might pay 10 times the price and it’s just not quite the same.

You can’t quite put your finger on what feels wrong about home

Something seems off, not quite right, but you can’t put your finger on it. All of these symptoms listed above is only a glimpse into the variety of emotions and experiences you will encounter after repatriating.

Prepare for Reverse Culture Shock.

Reverse Culture Shock; For better or worse

When considering moving abroad, or returning home, take a few of these factors into consideration. There is evidence to suggest that age, length of stay and prior experience play a huge part in ones ability (or inability) to quickly readjust and integrate back home.

  1. Voluntary versus involuntary reentry
  2. Expected versus unexpected reentry
  3. Age: reentry may be easier for older people who have been through more life transitions.
  4. Previous repat experience
  5. Length of the overseas stay: the longer you are away, the greater the chance for adaptation; hence the harder it may be to leave and come home.
  6. The degree of involvement with the overseas culture: the more involved you become in the local culture the harder it may be to leave it behind.
  7. Amount of interaction with the home culture during the overseas assignment
  8. The degree of difference between the overseas and the home culture
Prepare for Reverse Culture Shock.

How to Deal with Reverse Culture Shock

Find cultural events which can give you a dose of the place you are missing

If you live in a large enough community, or near a large community, reach out and find cultural events from your host country. They may be few and far between, but every little bit helps.

Share your experience with others

Although you might feel like no one wants to listen, there will be close ones who will support you with open ears and honest interest.

Write about it.

Start a blog, contact friends you made as an expat, or write articles – find new ways to incorporate your urge to share stories with an audience who will listen intently.

Maintain your style and stay international

If the return is truly too much to handle and wanderlust has simply taken over you, why not continue travelling? Look for assignments that will take you back overseas, for an extended period of time or for a month at a time. Continue travelling, albeit at a much slower pace than before, and maintain that wandering lifestyle.

Just because you are home, doesn’t mean you need to stop being the new you.

In the end, the transition requires patience and even more of an open mind than before. 

Your Thoughts…

Please share your thoughts in the comments...We would love to hear from you.

You May Also Like

22 Things Tourists Should Never Do in Canada

10 Reasons Why NOT to Quit Your Job to Travel the World

25 Ways to be a Sustainable Traveller

Unlikely things to miss about Canada

How to Make Travel Affordable, as an Expat

 Struggling with reverse culture shock after traveling for a long time? I feel you! Reverse culture shock is real, and something to be talked about. Read on to learn my story with reverse culture shock after years of travel, and advice on how to deal with it.
Ina - May 1, 2019

Hey Christine, I found your Blog while browsing through the Ottawa Blogger Group on Facebook. The headline of your post grabbed my attention and I began reading – it is so true! I am from Germany, studied in asia and moved to Canada a few months ago. I totally can feel the way you do. My boyfriend and I laught about all your truely comparisons – eventhough it sounds a little sad for your kids. I will keep on reading your posts.
Viele Grüße

Comments are closed