When You Finally Come Back: How to Deal with Reverse Culture Shock

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Maribel Muñoz

Maribel Muñoz

Freelance Copywriter, Content and Marketing Specialist, ex-Google

Every year thousands of people leave their home country in the western world due to a variety of reasons. Some of the most common are to master a new language, find a better job, or get further in their careers. However, the reverse cultural shock that takes place if you ever decide to go back to your home country after living abroad for an extended period of time is harder to identify and deal with, and is not as commonly talked about. If you don’t pay attention to it, it may stay with you for the rest of your life, as well as the distress that comes with it. 

If you often find yourself feeling misunderstood, you feel like you don’t fit into your native culture, and you feel depressed, you might be suffering from reverse culture shock or re-entry shock. It can be difficult to deal with the types of feelings it generates and it is becoming more and more common due to an increase in global mobility, job transfers and travelling in general. 

Keep reading to find out what reverse culture shock is, what factors make it easier or harder to deal with, and what you can do to minimize the damage and feel back at home in your own country.

What is Reverse Culture Shock?

If you ever decide to pack up your things and go back home, you may almost find yourself living in a second foreign country instead of the country you once knew. In many cases you may have already gone through an assimilation process and you may not be the same person you once were. As Dean Foster, president of DFA Intercultural Global Solutions explains to Expatica

Reverse culture shock is experienced when returning to a place that one expects to be home but actually is no longer. It is far more subtle, and therefore, more difficult to manage than outbound shock precisely because it is unexpected and unanticipated.

In many cases the difficulty to readjust largely depends on how long you were living in the foreign country and how immersed you became in the other language and culture.

What are the Main Factors in Reverse Culture Shock?

According to Investopedia, the factors that determine the degree of reverse culture shock you may experience are:

  • How long you have been living abroad.
  • How frequently you visited your home country and how much you communicated with your family and friends there.
  • How receptive your contacts are to the new experiences you lived.
  • How big the cultural differences are between your home country and the foreign country where you lived. 

If you were visiting home often while living abroad and kept in touch with everyone, then the shock will likely be less upon your return. Being in contact with people from your country and being part of a community of expats will also help. People typically tend to avoid spending time with fellow countrymen in order to learn the language better, but from a social perspective we still need support from them and to be able to express ourselves in our mother tongue.

In any case, customs and culture play a big factor: if there are big differences between both countries, let’s say, between an Asian and a Mediterranean country, and you have been apart for years, you might find yourself missing your adoptive country more than a bit.

The process might be much harder than when you went abroad the first time, because you will be more critical at home and you will have other standards to compare things to. Your family and friends might have a hard time understanding you have changed (they might have changed too), and you will miss the habits and culture you acquired while living abroad. I often compare the process to parenting, or criticizing your parents, because you are often stricter about things with your own family. It hurts you more if they do something wrong, because you love them, and you want them to do better. So you raise the bar.

How Can Reverse Culture Shock Affect Us?

Going through reverse cultural shock can add stress into your daily life and affect your mood to the point where you feel you don’t belong anymore. You might find yourself dealing with the exact same stereotypes and difficulties you used to dislike before you left, and this time around they might be harder to deal with, because you think you know better. But you see everyone around you dealing with it; they may even be happy with it, so you end up thinking YOU are the problem. As a consequence, you can experience a high degree of isolation and feel pretty invisible. As Eric Roth wrote in the screenplay for the movie, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: “It’s a funny thing coming home. Nothing changes. Everything looks the same, feels the same, even smells the same. You realize what’s changed is you.” 

According to marquette.edu, these are the most common psychological effects of reverse culture shock:

  • Restlessness
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Boredom
  • Depression, sadness because no one wants to hear
  • Uncertainty
  • Confusion, because relationships have changed
  • Isolation, because people don’t understand, and you cannot explain
  • Wanting to be alone
  • Feelings of alienation/critical eyes

Have you ever dealt with any of these? Instead of putting up an emotional barrier and hating everything that surrounds you, you can find people who are ready to listen to you, and who can guide you through a process of assimilation back into your home country. You are certainly not the only one going through this.

What Can I Do?

You can lessen the mental struggles you are suffering after returning home. There are a number of resources available that you can access by talking to professionals who are experts in the matter, so don’t hesitate and put yourself in their hands. A psychologist who is an expert in expat struggles, like those available online at Wemby, can help you deal with reverse culture shock by:

  • Understanding that what is happening to you is normal
  • Learning how to deal with the situation
  • Learning to be resilient
  • Acquiring mechanisms to reduce the level of distress in your daily life
  • Tapering your critical inner voice
  • Adapting to your new home and leaving your former environment behind
  • Enjoying the new learnings

Change and resilience are things all of us have to deal with, no matter what types of experiences we go through. Talking to a professional will give you the right tools to face your new situation under a positive light and adapt to what each place has to offer, creating your own happy and comfortable environment. Start listening to your feelings and create your own path down self-care.

Wemby provides online therapy and wellbeing services delivered by experienced psychologists. Our team is here to help you start building your balance and emotional wellbeing today.  

Download the app, complete a matching questionnaire and get paired with a therapist with the best licensed professional to match your needs. 

Wemby provides online therapy and wellbeing services delivered by experienced psychologists. Our team is here to help you start building your balance and emotional wellbeing today.

Download the app, complete a matching questionnaire and get paired with a therapist with the best licensed professional to match your needs.

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