6 Things I Wish I had Known Before Coming Home
sharing my experience with reverse culture shock and how to deal with it.
By Terah Summers, University of Hawai’i at Manoa
Reverse Culture Shock:
Feelings (of surprise, disorientation, confusion, etc.) experienced when people return to their home country and find they do not fit in as they used to. This may be due to a change in perspective, a decrease in excitement, an appreciation for and of different customs, or because during the travels the home country was idealized.- University of California, Davis
Six months living abroad and I was finally home. I dropped my good ole’ traveling backpack for the last time on my bedroom floor. Something was different. I looked around unable to pinpoint what had changed. Everything looked exactly the same, from the bed sheets to the fading chocolate milk stain on my carpet. I could still hear the ocean waves beckoning through the window. I sat down on my bed. It even creaked the same as it used to. So what was different? Since I had stepped into the room I felt strange sensation of discomfort and unease. It was then I realized that absolutely nothing was different. The only thing that had changed was the girl standing in the room. I felt like a stranger in my own home. And that’s when the reverse culture shock began.
There are a few things that I really wished I had known before I came home. I was very fortunate to not have been a victim of extreme culture shock when I arrived in Spain. Sure there were the little things…what in the world are they saying to me …what dinner is at 9:30 pm…what no ICE COFFEE?!? But otherwise I adjusted rather nicely into my new life abroad. I loved discovering a new place and a new culture so much that I barely had time to miss home. Coming home, in comparison, feels like I’ve been run over by a tractor. Part of the reason why I was so greatly affected was because I really didn’t expect it and so didn’t really prepare myself. I wish I had been better prepared for the difficult transition that some long term travellers face when returning home. So hopefully sharing my experience will help fellow travellers understand why home feels so ‘foreign’ when you are abroad for a long time. And this will also be useful if you have a friend experiencing reverse culture shock. Having a friend who understood why I was a basket case the first few months back would have been so wonderful! So here are five things I wish I had been told before coming home.
1) The Adventure is NOT over-
There’s a wonderful quote by J.R.R Tolkien that goes, “Don’t adventures ever have an end? I suppose not. Someone always has to carry on the story.” It’s easy to feel like nothing at home will compare to your year or semester abroad. You might find yourself spending looking through all your photos on Facebook wishing time travel was possible because you’d give anything to relive those moments. Reminiscing is natural, but always remember to live in the present. And remember that your adventure did not end when you boarded the plane home. Life itself is a beautiful, complicated, crazy adventure .
2) It will take time for the “new you” to feel adjusted at home-
When I was abroad I felt like I blossomed. I felt empowered, independent, and confident. Being placed in a new environment really helped me release the insecurities I carried with me at home. As cliché as it sounds, it felt like a fresh start. But when I came home, I was surprised to feel all the insecurities flooding back. I felt like I had taken a step backwards. Be patient and don’t get frustrated if this happens. The “new you” will come at once you feel adjusted. If you feel disconnected at your college try getting more involved in school by joining a club, helping international students at your school, or getting a part time job.
3) Accept that not everyone will want to hear about you time abroad-
This was especially hard to swallow. Of course my parents wanted to hear every last detail but the same could not be said for some of my friends. I was so excited to see my friends again and share my stories. My excitement dimmed when a friend would seem uninterested or avoid the topic all together. At times it felt very isolating. But try your best to not get frustrated at your friends. We are all human and sometimes it’s hard to be fully engaged and interested in something you can’t relate to. It’s hard to be a good listener and putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. Usually those friends mean well but they just don’t know how to respond to your experience. Sometimes they are envious and don’t want to hear anything about it. Whatever the case, don’t take it too hard. I also cannot stress how very very important it is to remember to ask your friends how they’ve been and not just ramble on and on about your travels.
4) Reconnect with old friends-
This is another hard one. I really learned a lot about my friendships when I returned home. In some ways I’m to blame. You don’t need to constantly Skype your friends while you’re abroad. But just like a garden friendships need to be nurtured. Even the prettiest, strongest flowers will whither if you don’t give it enough water and care. I regret not sending postcards and keeping in touch with my friends back at home more. That being said some people who I thought were good friends moved on while I was abroad. Sometimes the people you care about most disappoint you, but try not to take it to hard. Treasure the friends who will always be there for you despite the distance and remember that new friendships are always around the bend.
5) Stop and appreciate the little things –
It’s easy to feel “bored” or “unstimulated” when you return home. But it’s important to enjoy the simple things such as a sunset, a good cup of tea, or a moment of laughter with your coworkers. Take a moment and reflect on all the things you are blessed with in life. Whenever I was feeling down, I’d remind myself of my blessing and it helped put things back into perspective. Trust me life is full of small, beautiful moments that don’t require a plane ticket.
6) Plan for your next adventure! –
I’ve been bitten by the travel bug. And I have to admit, sometimes it’s rather irritating. Every other day I have an itch to look up travel destinations on Pinterest or read travel blogs for hours. Then the more I read and droll over the pictures, the longer my “travel list” grows. I know for a fact I want to live abroad in the future. Planning my next adventure has been a way to let out some of my reverse culture shock frustrations.Whether my future travel plans involve Peace Corps, teaching English, or graduate school abroad, it will require a lot of planning and initiative. So just remember that you have so much to look forward to. Stop mopping and start living! Just a little tough love from one traveller to another.