Hello, friends! 😄 How’s it going?
This is (sadly) the last post of our Culture Shock series… and I’d like to start our conversation by taking you back to your childhood.
I assume you did some arts and crafts, using paint and mixing them to create new colors.
Now imagine yourself being the paint — this might sound weird, I know, but trust me! This analogy will hopefully help you visualize the point!
You’re the blue paint, while American culture is the yellow. You came to the United States blue but became green through the new practices and customs of American culture.
You’re basically a chameleon! Highfive, friend!
Now imagine going back to your homeland green, yet everyone there is blue. You don’t seem to fit in anymore. This is called “reverse culture shock”.
How Reverse Culture Shock Happens
Reverse culture shock has stages, similar to what we saw in regular culture shock.
Stage 1 – Disengagement 😒😴
At this stage, you start thinking about your departure from the host country and the return to your homeland.
Stage 2 – Honeymoon 🍯🌙
The excitement of this stage is related to returning to your homeland– being reunited with family and friends, having access to eat all your favorite foods, being free to do what you like, etc.
People in this stage are hyped about all that’s good in their homeland, and seeing family and friends invigorates them; however, the duration of this stage is shorter when compared to the honeymoon stage of culture shock, as the home culture is already known.
Stage 3 – Rejection 🙅🚫
As the excitement of being home wears off, tension creeps in. It’s at this stage you realize you’re still green! (remember the paint example!)
Boredom may appear, as there are no longer as many challenges as in your international experience. You begin realizing your way of thinking and living is no longer the same as that of your family and friends, and the environment no longer matches the mental image of home you had. Your family and friends may not understand your change, either.
It’s also possible to struggle to apply the knowledge and skills you acquired while away, making you feel like everything you’ve studied isn’t relevant.
It’s as if you’re losing your identity.
You may experience confusion, frustration, restlessness, insecurity, and uncertainty. You may start missing your life abroad and compare it to unpleasant experiences at home. Thus arises the critical judgments of your home and the resistance to adapt to the new phase.
Stage 4 – Adjustment 😅😌
Over time, you’ll undergo an emotional and psychological readjustment, gaining a more balanced perspective on the strengths and weaknesses of both cultures.
Overcoming Reverse Culture Shock
1. Be prepared 🏋️♂️
Reverse culture shock is more subtle and unexpected than culture shock because no one imagines home, a place known since birth, as a significant change.
The intensity of reverse culture shock varies from person to person.
In general, people who’ve moved to a country with a very different culture, who’ve had little contact with their family and friends, and who’ve spent a long time outside their country are the ones most likely to have a high degree of reverse culture shock.
So be ready for reverse culture shock. Even if you don’t realize it, you’re no longer just “blue paint” like when you left your country. The best preparation is flexibility, openness, minimal biases, and moderate optimism.
2. Be yourself 🕺
While you were in another country, you had new experiences, learned to interact with new people, adopted new patterns and customs, and got used to a new way of life. All these things are now familiar to you and part of your new identity.
However, this new identity may be rejected when returning home. As your family and friends notice you’re different, it may lead to jokes and/or criticism, making you feel upset and misunderstood.
Here’s the tip: accept your change and be the new version of yourself. That’s where the beauty is! You’ve had unique experiences, broadened your perspective, and opened your mind to different ideas– of course, you’re not the same anymore!
Exercise your empathy; people don’t understand your change because they haven’t had the same experiences as you.
A great way for you to step into your new identity and help others understand is by introducing them to habits you’ve adopted from your new culture. For example, you could prepare and share your favorite dish with them from your time abroad.
3. Take advantage of communication 🗣️
Take advantage of communication to talk to your family and friends about your return process and what you’re feeling and thinking.
Communication is also a great tool for combating the belief that your whole experience wasn’t valid.
So go ahead and share your experience with people. You may feel like no one wants to listen, but there will be supportive people who take a genuine interest in your stories. Try connecting through an element of life they’re familiar with, such as food, school, shopping, etc.
You could even expand your sharing by starting a blog! It would be great to bring tips to people based on what you’ve experienced while you’ve been away.
4. Be patient 🙇♀️
Balancing the patterns of the new culture and your home culture takes time, so be patient with yourself in this readjustment process.
The attitudes you took to adapt to the host culture while abroad can be helpful in your readjustment process.
5. Enjoy the present 🌞
Even if confused and lost, you’re where you are because God has a purpose.
So make the most of this season of life. Be intentional about taking advantage of it. Make a list of what you want to do and the people you want to see.
Find activities you enjoy and explore new things in your home country. And don’t forget to engage in activities with people, like clubs, organizations, and volunteer opportunities related to your interests.
These will help you feel more at home.
6. Dealing with reverse homesickness 🙃
People dealing with reverse culture shock often miss the life they had in their host country.
To alleviate this, you can maintain some habits you picked up while away, keep in touch with the friends you made, join an online community or language exchange program, explore jobs, internships, or travel opportunities in your host country, read the online newspaper from where you lived, make a scrapbook of your memories, etc.
You can also incorporate your new perspective into your old home– find cultural outlets you’ve never experienced before, pick up a new hobby, or take a day off to be a tourist in your own city.
Final Thoughts 💭
If you realize reverse culture shock is very intense and are having a hard time overcoming it, seek support.
Find someone who can help you through this process, be it a friend, counselor, or therapist. Reverse culture shock is why many people fall into depression, especially because of its subtle nature. So don’t wait and get support!
Well, friends, I hope these tips help you overcome this challenging period of life. I also hope this series will help some of you understand the processes international students go through + give you the ability to empathize with them.
It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. It’s wonderful to have our horizons expand and I’m proud of you for being so brave on this journey!
Hugs and all the best! See ya next time! 🤗🧡