Most people that have lived abroad or travelled for a longer time, have experienced reverse culture shock. I have, several times.
During my five years of travels and living abroad, I have returned home to Norway for a few months to visit now and then. And I cannot remember one time I came home and did not experience reverse culture shock. And should we believe the experts – most expats experience the same.
At first, I always feel excited to return home. I am happy to see my family and friends again. I have looked forward to wear the rest of my wardrobe, and most of all to eat my favourite food again. Salmon, shrimps, and chicken-salad are on top of my list.
However, after a few days, maybe a week, this euphoria wears off. And I find myself feeling out of place – in my own culture. And this is the experience of reverse culture shock.
The experts argue that when you live abroad you learn over time to behave and think like the locals to fit in in the host country. When you eventually return home, you get shocked by the fact that you changed, due to that it is often the first time you have the opportunity to experience any of these changes.
For me personally, I can relate well to that in many ways. For example in terms of hygiene or just the way of thinking. However, also in terms of languages. Though Norwegian is my mother language, English and Spanish have been part of my daily life for so many years now. When I come home my Norwegian is pretty elementary. I start to translate my thoughts from Spanish to Norwegian, or English to Norwegian, and that can actually be a huge challenge when I want to express myself in Norwegian. Often people laugh at me, they comment my language and correct me. I feel frustrated, and stupid just like when I was starting to learn Spanish which was a totally new language for me.
But, it is not just you that have changed when being away. So have many things at home. The experts claims that most travellers have an idealized view of home, and I can surly relate to that as well. Furthermore, they say it is normal to think that everything stand still while you were away, and furthermore to expect to be able to pick up exactly where you left off. However, a problem arises when reality does not meet these expectations. Your friends and family have their own lives, and things have happened since you have been gone. This is part of why home may feel so foreign.
For example, most of the friends I had before I travelled have moved. Furthermore, they are now married, with house, car and children. They went on with their lives, and things are not like before, nor is the friendship we had.
In addition, when arriving home after a long trip it is normal to feel frustrated or confused when close friends and family are anything but curious about the experience you had abroad. I have felt this many times, and I know many friends that feels the same when coming home. After all, when being gone to a foreign land for years, you would like to talk about it and share the experience with the people you love. But often they are not interested in listening, or do not understand.
In addition, I often feel bored. I start missing the countries I have been to. And it is normal to feel lonely.
That being said, this is the bottom of the curve and often the roughest part. The good news is, although it may take time, you will begin a gradual adjustment back towards feeling comfortable with where you are, and your home. Always with time I have adapted back to feeling okay in my own country again. With time, my Norwegian gets better and my normal speech come back. Not all old relationships have been rebuild, however I have made new ones. With time you stop feeling bored, and you get into a daily routine. And after a while you have less need for talk about your adventures as well.
I know when I am going back to Norway in a few months, I will most likely get reverse culture shock, again. But I know as well that with time, it passes.
Have you ever experienced reverse culture shock?