In a post a couple of weeks ago I shared my experience with the cultural adjustment process and its four stages, one of which is the culture shock. I think I’ve been quite lucky as I haven’t had the taste of a culture shock while living in the UK. However, whenever I’ve had the chance to go back home to Latvia, I have experienced a thing called reverse culture shock. What kind of beast is that?
What Is A Reverse Culture Shock?
The truth is, reverse culture shock is usually related to repatriation – when you, after spending some time living abroad, return to your home country. Similar to cultural adjustment process, it has several stages and the whole experience takes a U-shape curve too.
At first, you might feel happy and excited to be back home, but with time the initial positivity wears off and you start feeling out of place in your own culture. This is when the reverse cultural shock unexpectedly hits you. Gradually you will, of course, start feeling better and enjoy being back home. I would call this the cultural re-adjustment process. However, I’ve not moved back to Latvia, but I have felt all this whenever I go back for a visit.
Therefore I think this phenomenon can also be applied to shorter or longer trips home when you get immersed in the culture that was once so familiar to you but now seems strange and distant. I’ve been back home three times now, and even though each time was accompanied with different feelings, one is always present. I get frustrated with things that seemed so common before.
Why Reverse Culture Shock Happens?
When an expat spends a considerable amount of time in a foreign country, they more or less intentionally start to behave, act and think like locals. We learn new patterns of behaviour, we may start eating differently, and we see things differently because we have a whole new context, the new culture we live in. Some of us are better at adjusting, some – less so, however, it happens to all expats to a certain degree.
I believe, sometimes you don’t even notice how much you’ve adjusted. And I think that’s what happened to me during my first visit home which was only some six weeks after I had moved to the UK. I didn’t realise I’d adjusted to English culture so much until I was back in Latvia where things seemed different now.
One of the reverse culture shock triggers is believed to be this realisation of how much you have changed since you last were in your home country. The truth is, both you and your culture have changed. And when you go back, you see both these changes as though under a magnifying glass.
And when it comes to our norms and values, sometimes we’re not even aware of most of them just because they’re so common to us. But now that you’ve returned home, you see them in a new light and what you see might surprise you. When you interact with your family and friends, you might think that you’ve missed out on something, that they misunderstand you, and are different than they used to be.
How To Fight Or Deal With It?
I think the most important thing, as with the cultural adjustment process, is to be aware that this might happen to you and how it might feel – be mentally prepared for it. And remember, you have been through this when you moved away from home – just in reverse order. You survived, and you will survive this time.
Whatever you do, don’t get too emotional over what you’re experiencing and never lash out on people around you. Talk to them! Explain how you feel, tell them what you’re going through. Yes, they might not fully understand you if they’ve not been through anything like this, however, there is a reason they are in your life. They can be of great support to you.
After I realised what was happening to me on all occasions when I went back home, I took it with a more open mind and with fewer emotions. Yes, it might not be easy, but if I could change my life moving to the UK, I can do as little as surviving each trip home and everything that comes with it.
And there’s a great way how you can make each trip more enjoyable – don’t treat it as a visit back home, but as any other trip you take to a foreign country. Be open to new experiences, don’t judge too harshly and try to accept people, things, processes and norms the way they are.
I would love to hear your experience with reverse culture shock and how you dealt with it!
Note: This post originally appeared on Expat in MCR (expatinmcr.com) blog which has since been renamed to Dream Chaser (dreamchaserwrites.com).