We’ve all heard of culture shock. In this increasingly globalised world, more and more people are living and working abroad and have come to expect the stresses of cultural upheaval when expatriating, be it for university, work or leisure.
A lesser-known issue of jet-setting lies in reverse culture shock. The problems you might encounter when returning home may come as a surprise, but you should be prepared to feel more than a little out of place.
There are a number of barriers you might encounter during repatriation, which can seem unfair after the lack of familiarity and upheaval you overcame when you moved abroad. Sadly, it’s all just part of the process, but absolutely worth it in the end.
It can be difficult when you return home from living abroad with a wealth of new experiences, language skills, friends from around the world and a taste for the foreign, be that through food, cultural norms or the climate.
Having lived abroad a few times myself, I always found it strange that I felt I had changed so much, but no one could see it or they didn’t seem to notice.
Whilst you’ve been away, everyone has been going about their business and you’re expected to just slot back in – another major adjustment you have to make.
Along the same lines, it can feel like nothing or no one at home has changed; perhaps slight changes have occured, the neighbours moved house, a different fast food chain has taken over the high street, maybe someone got a new dog, but my overriding perception was ‘same-old, same-old’.
For example, I moved to Canada for two years just after the Brexit results were announced. It felt like a tidal wave of change was on the horizon. But on returning two years later, nothing had really changed, my pounds were still not very valuable and everyone was still in a confused muddle.
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You’ve undergone an intense period of personal development but your home life, and even home nation, has remained unchanged.
And with our increasing reliance on social media, when living abroad, we can feel more and more connected to life back home. But I found that this was a bit of a red herring. Often it can feel like standing behind a glass screen looking in, feeling close, but in reality, you’ve never been so far away.
It really isn’t possible to be in two places at once. If you’re at home wishing you were still living abroad, you won’t make the most of getting used to being back in your home country just as much as if you’re abroad wishing you’re at home.
Another issue I encountered on returning home from travels was that you become the annoying friend who could talk for days about your travels, often with your compelling stories falling on deaf ears. If one more friend does an impression from that ‘Gap Yah’ video…
I’ve learnt that people only want a quick summary of your travels, and only want to hear the good bits. Often your friends might be jealous that you’ve been living abroad and so view your descriptions of life overseas with rose-tinted spectacles.
If you try to describe a negative time, I’ve found that people don’t hear it. “You were living abroad though, so every moment must’ve been amazing, right?”
The key is to remember that it’s not all about you. You may have had a revelatory experience, but you need to make sure you’re packaging it correctly for the right audience. You’ve had an amazing time but people will lose interest if you seem self-involved and egotistical.
Try to recreate some of the good times you had whilst you were away, maintain traditions and routines, cook and share the foods you enjoyed whilst abroad with friends and family, and perhaps try and make new friends who have had similar experiences and want to talk about it with you.
I think you need to remember that it is the ‘same-old, same-old’ you came back for, and really, we’re lucky to have friends and family or a sturdy home that’s not going anywhere. So, remember to be grateful, and don’t forget that you can always live abroad again – so get planning!