Reverse Culture Shock

Reverse Culture Shock: Dealing With It Without Spreading It
Friday, May 31st, 2013

You’ve just returned from a life-changing adventure around the world, where every day brought you something new and exciting to experience. You can’t believe how much you’ve accomplished in such a short period of time, yet the second you walk through the door to your home, it feels like you never left, as everything looks the same.

And 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, my friend, 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). And although it’s not contagious, you can spread it to non-travelers. Here are some tips on how to deal with Reverse Culture Shock without spreading your anxiety, and even depression, to those around you.

Coming home can be a selfish act sometimes. You assume 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. Remember, you used to live your life in a similar way before traveling.

One way to make this transition easier is to stay up on what they were doing while traveling. You might have kept a travel blog so that they could follow along on your every step. Yet even if they do have a personal blog, keep the dialogue open while on the road. Social networks especially make this easier than ever.

When someone asks you the general question “How was your trip?”, you would love to get into every detail – from the tree-climbing goats you searched out in Morocco to the elephants you rode 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.

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 remember, 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.

David Lee has some great suggestions in his post on “How to Survive Reverse Culture Shock”:

Seek Out Activities Inspired From Abroad – Didn’t get a chance to join an ashram in India? Start taking yoga classes when you get home. Become addicted to salsa in Latin America? Do a web search for bars in your area offering salsa nights. The list is endless, from sports to spirituality, cooking to kayaking, chances are good you’ve picked up a few new interests to pursue.

David even found his own way of coping:

More than missing the experience of traveling, I missed the friends that I had made the last 6 months in Medellin. They were a mix of Colombians, Europeans, Canadians, Australians, and fellow Americans. I really enjoy the diversity of perspectives, and accents, that come with meeting people abroad. To ease the transition, my home away from home has become a popular Salsa club where there is always a heavy Latino presence, and the American women I meet have often traveled to South America.

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. And more importantly, you can prevent the spread of it to those around you.

To read more about re-entry after a big trip, check out the following artilces:

Career Break Guide Table of Contents

Meet Plan Go