Reverse Culture Shock - A Struggle in Disguise
We have been talking about the emotional phases and impacts of Culture Shock before and you may remember the four phases: Honeymoon, Anxiety, Adjustment and Adaption.
If you look closely at the chart, you see yet another emotional phase that you as an expat most likely will experience once you are going home: the Reverse Culture Shock.
It sounds a little dramatic, doesn't it? Why would anyone be shocked by their own culture when they are repatriating?
It is a good question. After all you may have missed the holidays in your home country. You might have dreamt about finally eating the food that you grew up with and you just know the culture: what to do, what not to do and how to interact. You speak the language without an accent. Not to mention that you finally will see your old friends and family members again. It sounds all so easy.
Yet, many people undergo alienation, isolation, confusion, boredom, restlessness and even depression when they move back to their home country. But why?
There are two main factors that contribute to Reverse Culture Shock:
Depending for how long you have been away your home country has changed. Consider this analogy: If you are a new parent and around your baby day and night, you may not be aware of how much your child is actually growing, because that change happens continuously. Whereas someone who is visiting your baby after 6 months again might be amazed how much your little one has grown since last time.
The same is true for a country: if you live in a country change happens continuously and you adapt over time, whereas if you have been away for 5 years you will probably see a significant difference. There might be new buildings, new parks, new policies, a new infrastructure, new rules and new politicians.
Change becomes even more obvious when you visit your former workplace: you might be greeted by new employers and maybe a new boss. There might be a new cafeteria, new parking spaces and a different way of how things are done. To all the others this is normal, for you as a now outsider it can feel completely alienating.
The same applies to the relationships in your life: people have changed. Some of them married, have children now, lost a parent, got a divorce, found a new partner, transferred to a new job. The list goes on. It is so painful to realize that old friends have moved on, found other friends, share inside jokes and you are no longer part of the group.
It is one thing to get used to a new office, but it is rather painful to realize that you no longer belong to your old group of friends and colleagues or at least something feels off, feels weird. It not only feels off, because their lives have continued, someone else has changed:
The other main factor that adds to reverse culture shock is you. Like it or not, but living in a foreign country has changed you on so many levels. There are the superficial ones that you might dress differently, have new furniture in your house and enjoy exotic food. Those are easy to compensate. But maybe your opinion about your host country has shifted, maybe you appreciate other values now, maybe you have a new political position on varies topics, maybe you found a new subjective truth? And if your opinion clashes with other people's opinion that were once near and dear to your heart, you may feel like a fish out of water.
You may now wonder if there is something you could do to eliminate reverse culture shock or at least make sure that it doesn't hit you as hard.
The reason that you are still reading tells me that you are already aware that reverse culture shock should be taken seriously and that awareness alone is a huge benefit. In a way you know what to expect and that knowledge reduces the impacts of reverse culture shock.
But what else could you do?
Well, how could you prepare for the fact that your home country and the people staying there will change. The obvious answer is to stay as much in contact as possible. What does that mean to you? Maybe you need to schedule weekly calls, e-mails, send up-dates, make sure that you know what is going on in your company and at your workplace. Read that newsletter, watch the local news and visit as often as you can (I know, this is almost impossible during these unprecedented time right now). What else comes to you so you can stay as connected as possible to the places and the people back at home?
Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to prepare for the fact that you will change during your time abroad. You have to personally re-invent yourself and those new values and your new way to look at the world will offend some of your old friends and family members and bewilder others which leads to the feeling of no longer belonging to your home country. Some expats decide to keep moving. You may have heard the term "once an expat, always an expat" and now you can imagine why.
But back to you: to best way to prepare for reverse culture shock is to be aware of it and to realize that the people back home didn't have had the same experiences that you have had and that they evolved just as much as you. In a perfect world we would listen to each others stories and learn from it.
If you struggle on your repatriation journey or if you actively want to prepare for your move and figure out how you would like to show up back home, just talk to a professional coach who is trained to support you during the transitions of life. There are no easy answers or universal truths that you could follow. You have to figure it out for yourself. And once you do get clear on your values, how you have changed, what to expect and how to prepare for your move, Reverse Culture Shock becomes less daunting.
COACHING because change is inevitable but growth is optional.
CHANGE IS THE ONLY CONSTANT IN LIFE. ONES ABILITY TO ADAPT TO THOSE CHANGES WILL DETERMINE YOUR SUCCESS IN LIFE.
- Benjamin Franklin -