The fact that reverse culture shock exists seems like a cruel joke. You are coming home; you were here before; why is it so hard to return? Depending on how long you’ve been away it can be harder to reconcile your memories, especially those rose-colored ones, with what has changed and realities back home. Not only that, your experiences overseas have changed you – some of the expectations of those you left behind are also different. How can you use your expat expertise to help you repatriate?
1. Use your Networks to get over Culture Shock: Staying in touch with family and friends is often the support network you used as you embarked on the journey overseas. Get back in touch and visit those folks now that you have some proximity or have them come visit! Alternatively, use the support network in your most recent home abroad to help you adjust – they are more likely to be interested in those small revelations you have as you adjust to life back home – things that may seem less significant to those that have been living here.
2. Be a Host to Expats in Your Home Country: You are coming back with some significant advantages over other expats – you have language skills and some cultural skills, rusty as they may feel. Use those skills to help others going through culture shock. Navigating culture shock may have a lot of similarities to your reverse culture shock, sharing that with new expats makes them feel less uncomfortable and may help you as you struggle to overcome some of the same things. You can do this through schools that host exchange students, through your companies programs, through a church or immigration facility, or even an organization like InterNations.
3. Blend your Experiences – Preserve the Old, Create New: Part of the challenge in coming back is missing your hard won comfort with your life abroad and dealing with certain challenges you didn’t expect back home. Why not bring back the “spice of life” from your experiences abroad and blend them with something in the U.S.? Perhaps host a dinner party where you teach some friends how to cook from your most recent destination. Maybe you can find a place that teaches the dance in the country you just came from and find others who’ve experienced similar travel. Figure out what you enjoyed or found you loved overseas and see how to bring it into your life in your home country (including making space for it!) – it’ll introduce you to others in the community with similar interests and help get over homesickness for the country you are coming from.
4. Make Repatriation an Adventure: Remember that initial excitement and apprehension when you first moved away? And then after the initial adventure the homesickness and culture shock set in. But you got over it! How? By going out to every invitation, finding ways to explore the city that was hosting you (museums, restaurants, theater, etc), and figuring out the local culture and traditions. Treat home like an anthropologist – explore those same traditions and cultures as a foreigner and see them as an experience! Go out and take every invitation, visit the touristy attractions that locals never do – it’ll make you find gems and allow you to escape the feeling that life back home is boring. Document this in the same way you did travels – through photos, a blog, anything - It’ll keep you seeing the adventure back home.
5. Trust Yourself: You’ve been through this before – remember how long it took to get over culture shock? Treat reverse culture shock as the same. If you are a serial expater, you have an idea of the rhythm, how long it takes you to acclimatize to the grocery stores, to the pace of life, to traffic, etc. Assume it will take the same – since you likely already have some friends and a far better leg up on currency, you’ll likely be pleasantly surprised at how much faster it is. By the same token – celebrate the small wins. The frustrations back home will likely be a bit smaller in scale – things you didn’t realize were surprising – this means that small wins are equivalent in size – celebrate them! When you see yourself becoming accustomed and adjusting to your new home it’ll feel faster than you thought!
Best of luck and Safe Travels!