Return to the country of origin: an unexpected shock

What does reverse culture shock involve? How to deal with it?

After some years abroad, for some the time comes, by choice, by contractual obligation or for personal reasons, to return to the country of origin. Ostensibly, what can be more natural than going home, back to the family atmosphere left behind years before? One thinks of taking up one’s life exactly where it was interrupted, but that is not the case.

The cultural shock of leaving is increasingly known and can be faced with prior preparation, or thanks to professional support during the initial period abroad, while the shock of returning often comes unexpectedly and, therefore, it is all the more destabilizing. This phenomenon is known as "Reverse Culture Shock".

One is not always conscious of how the experience abroad has changed one: our point of view of things is different, our view of life has broadened, we learn in a different manner, we have repositioned our scale of values, taken on board more flexibility and open-mindedness, we have multiplied our viewpoints from which we observe reality.

The initial euphoria over the return, once having arrived back in the home country, soon changes into deception, frustration and confusion when we don’t realize that not only have we changed, but also the surroundings that we left all those years ago are no longer the same as we keep in our memories.

Among the most common sensations experienced after having returned to the country of origin are: boredom, a feeling that nobody is interested in listening to us, a disinterest in others of our experiences abroad, homesickness for the foreign country, misunderstandings with others, difficulties in picking up relationships with family members and old friends, a feeling of alienation, the inability to use the competencies and knowledge built up abroad. These are feelings that are all the stronger the greater the degree of involvement and cultural adaptation in the host country.

How to deal with this and get over reverse culture shock?
Here are some suggestions:

  • Keep in touch with other expats.

    Keeping up the relationship with the people you have shared these experiences with over the past few years is a way of not feeling "different" and out of place. Today, using the social networks and instant messenger systems, it is possible to stay in touch with a global community made up of many people like you, spread out across the world.

  • Keep your new style and carry on being "international".

    Having returned to your home country does not mean that you necessarily have to abandon your own lifestyle and question your new identity, which is a result of your experiences. Carry on cooking typical dishes from your country "of adoption", read the international press or keep the custom of celebrating some festivities (e.g., Thanksgiving once you get back from the U.S.A.). These are just some examples of how it is possible to keep a link with experiences that are important for us.

  • Get back to using the resources acquired.

    Don’t forget that you have lived through and have dealt with cultural shock when you left your country of origin. Just by going through that experience has allowed you to acquire new resources and new cultural models, which help you to deal with this new challenge using far more tools than before. Think about the resources that you have activated to overcome difficulties when you were abroad and try to understand how you could use them again in this new context.

Ideally, to live the return to one’s home country as best as possible, the return home should be prepared six months before repatriation. You can do it on your own, attempting to prevent any possible difficulty that may await you, or with the support of an expert coach in these matters, to rely on professional backing on this inverse journey.

So what about you? Have you already gone through reverse culture shock? How have you got through it?

Read the articles on Expats and the world of Intercultural Mind

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