This post was last updated on January 25th, 2016
Reverse culture shock is the ugliest part of traveling. It marks the end of your adventures, and worse yet, a return to normalcy.
The term “reverse culture shock” is defined as:
an “idealized view of home” and the “expectation of total familiarity.”
To put it bluntly, it’s the somewhat devastating feeling that accompanies your flight home from a long stint abroad — after the initial ‘I-can’t-believe-I’m-going-home-excitement’ wears off and you’re left with a whole of, well, nothing.
I came across a good way of putting reverse culture shock in my research — “you find yourself feeling out of place in your own culture.” But you don’t have to.
Across the board, everyone agrees that you will experience a gradual re-acclimation to wherever you call home. And it doesn’t mean forgetting the incredible eight weeks you spent backpacking in South America or the six months studying in Asia. It means incorporating your experiences from that time abroad into your current outlook on life.
How To Deal With Reverse Culture Shock
1. Express Yourself
Among our biggest fears after returning is that we’ll forget everything that’s happened. It all feels a bit like a dream, and there’s no one around to verify the reality. So don’t be afraid to seek that validation — find someone who will listen to your stories, or maintain that journal you started abroad. Just don’t let the memories fester in the back of your mind until you start to feel isolated. Express them.
2. Seek out something from your time abroad at home.
It’s kind of like that moment we found a box of macaroni and cheese at an international grocery store in Hong Kong — only instead we discover a dim sum place with our favorite baked BBQ pork buns in a restaurant at home. Home has a funny way of existing in several places as time goes on, and it’s OK to find pieces of it wherever you go.
3. Look ahead.
You know that cliche saying about one door closing and another opening? That’s how you should feel about traveling. If you love it, keep doing it. Upon one particularly difficult return home, I got it in my head that I absolutely had to up and leave again as soon as time would allow, otherwise I might never get the opportunity. Then someone told me, “If you really want to go, you’ll find a way.” So plan your next adventure. Set goals. But don’t be afraid to live in the present, because you’ll get there, wherever “there” is.
With reverse culture shock, being frustrated is OK — to a certain extent. But don’t let those feelings dictate your life upon return. Instead, be patient. Be patient with yourself and your friends. Life doesn’t have to be a constant state of “normal.” You can seek adventure every day at home. When you’re traveling, you adopt a certain outlook — for me, it was taking “YOLO” to a whole new level. I was sure I would never be back in this moment, with these people, ever again. But in truth, that’s life always. No matter where you are or who you’re with.
So take the adventuresome spirit — the brave taste-testing and the food poisoning, the 10-day paradise and the day-1 sun burn, the new methods of travel and that one regretful trip on a propeller plane, and the lessons in love and heartbreak — and live it wherever you are in life.