Is it true that reverse culture shock is worse than regular culture shock? Have you had it? When and how did it hit you? Any advice for the returning traveller besides just never going home?
I'm heading home to Canada for 10 days after teaching for a year in Tianjin, China. Next year I am teaching in KL, Malaysia. I am anticipating it will feel really odd to be home. Don't get me wrong, I miss my friends and family like mad, but I realize that I will be viewing my own culture through a different lens.
Anybody have stories to share...hopefully ones that are funny and will make me ...less worried?
Hello Beth 😊
I used to get reverse culture shock when I was new to travelling. Sleeping in the same bed night after night after night and seeing the same things everyday used to make me feel restless.
Now that I have travelled a lot more I have mellowed out and enjoy the home time as much as the travel time. But that might have a lot to do with having a little daugher and a boyfriend at home which I did not have in the old days.
My culture shock is that I don't want to be back because I love traveling so much!! Actually I do get some and it's mostly because I really prefer the way many other cultures live, esp in Europe as compared to the U.S. But honestly, the biggest thing I notice is that I've picked up habits from where i have been. When I studied in Australia for 6 months, I came home calling things by their Australian names instead of their American names and using phrases that would cause people at home to look very confused at. I think, as Mel said, a lot of it is what you have to come home to. One thing that always helps me is that when I return, I try to think of what I really enjoyed about the places I was and if possible, I incorporate that into my own life. When I return from Europe, I find myself spending a lot more time sitting in coffee shops and cafes reading, writing and people watching. Things like that. Also, when I come home, I try to look at my local area from the eyes of a tourist a bit - if someone were visiting, what would I show them, what experiences would I suggest for them, where should they go out to eat or for nightlife, etc. This helps me get a bit of a fresh look on my home area and makes it more fun for me to return!
Just after I came back after a year on an exchange in New Zealand, I was out running some errands with my mom. At some point I turned to her and made some comment about how someone we'd just been talking to sounded like a used car salesman. She was mortified--after a year away, this was how I interpreted the accent from Alberta, where I was born and raised. My mom rather indignantly pointed out that I was the one with the problem--my accent had changed just enough that she claimed I didn't even say my own name properly anymore. Still makes me laugh to think about it, and it's been thirteen years.
Reverse culture shock is overwhelming, because you don't expect the things you grew up around to feel foreign. But it passes. And it's not really a bad thing to see the part of the world you grew up in with 'foreign' eyes--what you really value in life becomes much clearer.
The nearest thing to a culture shock is visiting countries like Canada and New Zealand, with clean cities and plenty of open space, then coming back to Heathrow or Gatwick ...
I forgot to mention in my previous post that there are lots of articles on the Internet about reverse culture shock. Many of them are geared toward exchange students, but there is still useful information in them. Just search for 'reverse culture shock.'
I've had to do some research on this myself for my current volunteer role with the Rotary Youth Exchange program, and one of the really good articles I've found discusses the five stages of culture shock
, with reverse culture shock being the fifth. This article applies to expats, so it may be more useful to you Beth. Hope it's helpful in understanding reverse culture shock as a normal part of the whole process of spending a year overseas.
I've never seen anything documenting reverse culture shock as it applies to long-term backpackers--it would be an interesting study...
I heard people who have worked in countries where everything is a lot less expensive than their own country and they got payed a lot less than they would in their own country get very shocked by the prices in their own country when they got home. Some of them who worked as volunteers said they experienced anger when they saw how much a person would spend on a beer(for example), because that money would do so much where they just spent the last 2 years.
Mell, you just hit on what scares me most! Despite the number of big shiny buildings, China is a developing country and I volunteer a lot in the community. Right now as I pack up, I just bring anything I won't need down to street level where it vanishes as soon as you turn your back. I remember putting stuff that was left over from a garage sale on my lawn with a "free" sign in Canada and most of it still being there the next day! You don't feel bad leaving food on your dishes in the restaurants because that is what the staff gets to eat.
Also, I'm worried about the mass consumerism. TV commercials here are mostly for Coke and Chips, products people can afford. The vast majority of Chinese people don't have credit cards, they only buy what they can afford. You don't feel pushed to upscale your television or car or get a new furniture set.
Has anybody out there done experienced reverse culture shock coming home from a developing country?
I have experienced reverse culture shock twice. In 2004 I returned from working in Mexico. When I arrived at the United States I was shocked at the urban sprawl, and how much space there is between things. In Mexico, houses, apartments, business are all on top of one another. In addition, the amount of waste that is produced in the United State shocked me--though I am used to it once again. What I mean by waste is much wrapping doesn't get recycled, items not reused, or food thrown aways because it doesn't "look" good. (I am sure I have done that many times).
Back in 2006, I returned from working in South Korea. The shock that time was food culture. The first place I arrived to was Chicago, and was at the airport for 4 hours waiting for a connecting flight. Every single individual was eating something at all times, I couldn't believe it. Whether it was a burger, fries, sandwich, drink, or any other snack, the amount of food that people were eating at every second shocked me. I never saw it to the same degree in Korea as the U.S., and it didn't help for the fact that nearly every business in the airport was for food consumption.
But, at least for me, the reverse culture shock went away fast. I haven't experienced it from my other travels.
That is really interesting because I can never get over how much they eat here in China...never a lot, but it seems like constant snacks! We went on a trip with a group of our Chinese friends and it was meal,snack,meal,snack,snack, meal...but they don't eat one big filling thing like a hamburger either, Chinese food isn't nearly so heavy. I'm thinking the airport should be fairly overwhelming...thanks, this is useful information!
I have also met travelers who are highly critical of the 'boring' lives those who dont travel lead. They arrogantly believe that others are too 'boring' or 'unimmaginative' to travel. This makes it difficult for them to fit in when they return home.
That is interesting too, begging the question of what motivates people to travel. Surely the motivation will affect how they integrate back into their family and circle of friends, likewise to what degree their world view has changed by travelling. I would think that the critical people you mentioned were likely leaning that way at least, before they set off on their travels? Did they always have something to prove? So going back to reverse culture shock, maybe we see the differences we wanted to be able to see in the first place? I wanted perspective on my career and location... and I miss it so much, I would go back this year if it made sense. I don't want to lose that perspective.
That last sentence is an interesting point, Beth - things start to feel very different when you're travelling, particularly in developing countries, and with distance from the life you had at home, you can start to see things more clearly about it, as well as seeing how other cultures behave, maybe noticing how less stressed and obsessive people are, compared to how we are in the west... I left India after 6 months, and although my trip was continuing on through Asia, my next stop was Singapore, which is very wealthy and glitzy and consumerist. It was then I noticed how much I'd let go of caring about getting the latest products, fashion, etc, and was much happier having a simple life where you just get your basics, then spend time focussing on other things - I felt very reverse culture-shocked, and even a bit angry and resentful that all there seemed to be were shops shops shops and spend spend spend spend. I really didn't want to lose my new sense of feeling freer and less burdoned by the pressures of consumer society, and I had the protection of knowing I was going back in to other developing countries after Singapore - but I also knew that one day, when I was back in the western world, at some point that sense would begin to fade, and to a certain extent I would get caught up again in the western way of life, stress, money etc. I don't know the answers about how not to lose perspective on things - in a way when you're sucked into your life again, inevitably you'll lose some of the new found awarenesses you've gained - my advice is let nature take control and don't worry about it! What you've experienced, and the much-needed distance from your life back home will have rubbed off, and some of that will stick, some of it will go. don't try and hold on to it too tight as that will just cause worry and stress and make it more likely that you'll 'lose' something. Like trying to catch a bubble - if you do, it pops and then it's gone - but if you just watch it and let it float away, it looks amazing and you see all the rainbow colours in it. Keep your experiences as precious, let them grow inside you. Like you say, you'll be travelling again next year, and after that, the wonders of the world will always still be there for you!