How to Deal with Reverse Culture Shock
Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

Springtime in London

The day was bound to come: your career break is over and you are headed home for the first time in months, maybe even years. You are returning from a life-changing adventure, where every day brought something new and exciting, and you are proud of all you accomplished.

And then you get off the plane and everything feels familiar, yet different. You walk through the door to your home and it feels like you never left. You stroll around your neighborhood and everything looks the same.

That feeling is only enhanced when you meet up with family and friends, as it may seem as if nothing has really changed with them either. But you have changed, and you’re not sure what to make of the roller coaster of emotions you’re feeling. You are experiencing reverse culture shock.

You’ll be happy to know that you’re not alone. Just about every traveler experiences it in some variation (including our very own Sherry Ott). What can you do to make the transition easier?

Make it a two-way conversation

Coming home can be a selfish act. It can be easy to assume that everyone wants to hear about your trip and all the exciting things you encountered. But don’t forget that they were living a life as well – make it a two-way conversation. Don’t make your friends or family members feel as if their lives are any less relevant because they didn’t travel – even if they insist that their lives have been “boring” compared to yours.

One way to make this transition easier is to stay up on what they were doing while traveling. You may have started a blog to allow family and friends to follow along with your journey, but make sure the communication is a two-way street. Schedule Skype dates, stay in touch by email, take advantage of instant messaging and follow their updates on Facebook. And don’t be offended if loved ones don’t keep up with your blog – it doesn’t mean they don’t care; thy may just not feel like they can relate.

Be careful of sharing too much information too fast

When someone asks you the general question “how was your trip?,” you may be tempted to go into every detail – from the tree-climbing goats you searched out in Morocco to the baby goats you fed by bottle staying in a village in Thailand. But for the most part, you’ll find that most people ask the same few questions.

Sherry Ott found that preparing some quick answers to the questions people wanted to hear was very helpful. She even created a Reflection By Numbers list so that should could quickly reference some fun facts, like how many bodies of water she dipped her toes in (10), the number of overnight trains she took (10), and the number of photos she had taken after editing (11,868).

And be aware that others might be jealous of you. In her post on Vagabondish, “How to Survive Reverse Culture Shock”, Amanda Kendle warns:

Be careful not to drop your travel tales into too many conversations. After traveling pretty widely, I know I’m guilty of this at times, and there is a clear reaction from some people if I begin a story with “When I was on the Trans-Siberian …,” which seems like one of jealousy. Not everybody has the same opportunity as you to travel abroad, but they might want to – so be sensitive about who you discuss your experiences with.

Try to introduce your friends to new cultures at home

Many travelers can get depressed after returning home from around-the-world travels, finding life at home less than stimulating. Matthew Kepnes put it best in his post, “The Joy of Coming Home”:

Back home, boredom can happen pretty fast if you don’t keep yourself busy. On the road you move around everyday but there is a certain static-ness that comes with being back home. Even if you keep yourself busy, returning home can be a little underwhelming sometimes.

It’s easy to start complaining to friends and family about how boring home is, but they may feel as if you are calling them boring as well. And your cultural adventures don’t have to end as soon as the plane touches down on the tarmac. Seek out restaurants, events, museums and other activities in your area that can make you feel as if you are still abroad. And better yet, invite some of your friends or family along so they can get a taste of what you experienced.

Make new friends

Your career break experience has changed you and while you may return home hoping to reconnect with your old friends, you may find it easier to seek out new friends – fellow travelers who understand who you are now. Caz Makepeace advised in her post, Dealing with Reverse Culture Shock:

Accept that you are not the same. You see things with different eyes and people may not recognize this anymore. Understand that is okay. Remain true to who you are. And if it means that some friendships change as a result then so be it. Things change, it is the nature of life.

Spend time with those who accept the new you and start making new friends. We joined the Sydney Travel Tribes group which is full of travellers who understand us. It always feels comfortable and easy to be with them. I still enjoy hanging out with my closest friends, but it’s nice to be a different me with others as well.

So keep in mind that adjusting to life back home will take some time. As long as you are aware of the signs of reverse culture shock, the better prepared you will be to deal with it.

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