All good things must come to an end: Dealing with reverse culture shock and readjustment

We spend so much time preparing for our travels overseas, but there is one area that no one seems to talk about — the reverse culture shock that nearly every traveller feels once they return home.

In fact, most people are surprised that this is more difficult to deal with than the original culture shock they initially experienced. For many travellers, returning home is the hardest part of their trip.

The reverse culture shock tends to be most severe for study abroad students and long-term travellers, but even short-term travellers experience the symptoms. Readjusting to life back home can be tough, and it’s very common to experience depression. I know that I personally struggled with readapting to life back home after I spent long periods of time abroad, and many of my friends have too.

What is reverse culture shock and what causes it?

For many of you, your trip to Europe will be your first experience overseas, and more importantly, it will be the first time you’re truly free to do whatever you want. You’ll be exposed to a different way of looking at life and it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll start to look at the world differently. You’ll realise that the way things are done back home aren’t always the best.

Don’t be surprised if you start to re-examine your life, priorities, values, and world view. It’s a gradual process and you probably won’t fully realise how you’ve changed until you return home.

Once you’re thrown back into your ‘normal’ life back home is when the reverse culture shock hits – and for some it will hit like a truck. You find that your old priorities, values, and world view don’t always line up with your new views. These changes are part of the human experience and they’re a good thing, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. In fact, for many travelers their time abroad triggers something like a quarter life crisis. You also have to make that difficult transition from vacation mode to real world mode, which can be challenging in and of itself.

What you may experience once you return home:

Your friends and family aren’t interested: You’ve just gone though a life-changing trip but the people back home haven’t. You can’t (and should’t) expect them to relate to your experiences because your experience is personal to you. Sure, they’ll listen to your stories, but after a while they’ll get bored of your tales. I know I started catching myself beginning all my stories with “In Europe they do it like this…” or “When I was in Europe…” and people’s eyes would start to gloss over. People just aren’t that interested. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ever talk about your travels, but you have to understand that not all people will care that much about your trip. Additionally, always talking about your travels can easily come off as pretentious

Trouble explaining your travels: This point is similar to the previous one. Many travellers get frustrated that they can’t convey their travels to other people – or that other people can’t understand the experiences they went through. It’s just one of those things you can’t describe. It’s like trying to describe a song to someone that’s never heard it. You’ll try but you’ll never be able to convey it.

Reverse homesickness: If you lived/travelled overseas for an extended period of time, you’ll start to feel homesick for that location. You start comparing both locations and miss all the positive things from your previous location.

Change of relationships: It’s very common for the relationships between you and your friends/family to change. That’s because your world view and priorities have probably changed as a result of your travels. This can cause friction and misunderstandings, and can also lead to feelings of alienation because other people don’t understand you as they once did.

Feeling out of place: You’ve changed and you now carry a piece of your international experience with you. This can lead to a feeling that you’re a bit of an outsider in your own culture.

Home has changed: The world is always in a constant state of change so many people are surprised that home has changed since they left.

The grass is greener: As time passes we tend to forget about the bad things and focus on the good things. Many people will start to over-romanticise their time abroad and it can lead to depression.
Return to the routine: Getting back into a routine can be difficult and depressing, especially after you’ve spent an extended amount of time with no real routine. And it’s not just about going to work. It’s the routine of everything — grocery shopping, driving, watching  TV, etc. Additionally, all your worries (student loans, jobs, money, etc.) are staring you in the face.

Getting over reverse culture shock:

Most experts say the best thing is to simply give yourself time. If you can’t seem to shake those post-trip blues, you can try some of the following things:

Accept change — You’re a different person and it helps to simple accept it.
Exercise — Getting that blood flowing is a natural anti-depressant.
Hang out with friends — Find people that make you happy and don’t isolate yourself.
Find other travellers — Other travelers understand what you’re going though and they’re more likely be interested in your travel stories.
Limit talking about your time abroad — Unless you’re asked, try to limit how much you talk about your time abroad. Talking about it too much will repel people and it makes you look pretentious.
Seek out the culture — If there are expats in your town, seek them out or watch movies from the country you lived in.

This article was written by James at The Savvy Backpacker. You can follow The Savvy Backpacker on Twitter here, and find James and Susan on Facebook here.

Image credit: Thinkstock

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