The Trials and Tribulations of Reverse Culture Shock

Starting life in a new country brings bouts of frustration and unforeseen challenges, testing your survival skills from every angle. Culture shock is inevitable. Immersing oneself in a new environment will rock your world. It begins with bliss then frustration, and after a while you adapt to your surroundings becoming fully adjusted. You will ultimately experience cultural differences, conflicting ethics, difficulty navigating new terrain, and an absence of familiar food or products, all while trying to establish new relationships and stay afloat at a new job. You will often dream about the comforts and simplicity of home. Soon enough the initial shock of transitioning to a new place will diminish, and you will regain a steady rhythm of life.

Expats are given a fair warning of culture shock, bracing themselves for the challenges ahead. However, no one ever discusses the effects of moving home. Whether you are ready to return home or not, reverse culture shock will surface, slapping you in the face harder then before. Just like the first culture shock, there are stages for reverse culture shock: honeymoon, irritability, readjustment, and adaptation. Personally, reverse culture shock shook me hard and I am still trying to recover from the transition. When my job in Korea went sour, I decided to move back to the U.S to regroup and figure out my next step in the security of my own home. I had no intention of setting my roots yet nor did I want to rush my next move or choose a job out of desperation. I told myself 3 months tops. 5 months later, I am still in the U.S and still stuck at stage 3. My re-immersion into the U.S has been a combination of highs and lows, leaving me restless with the urge to move overseas once again.

The Honeymoon Phase

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Saying farewell to your foreign town, excitement is high as you return to the familiarity of home. Your heart is content reuniting with friends, family, and the comforts of home. Restaurants, accessibility to goods, and the ability to communicate with your neighbor are all at your fingertips once again. For me, the ability to jump in the car, buy organic goods, spend time with family, and have leisurely brunches with my friends were what I missed the most. The first month or two were fantastic! Catching up with friends and sharing stories about the past year, then came…  

The Irritability Stage

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The excitement has begun to wear away and something just feels off. Home is the same, but you aren’t. You can’t quite figure out if you belong there or not, feeling a sense of identity loss. This my friend, is the irritability stage. You begin to the miss the international lifestyle, the freedom, and uniqueness of living abroad. My frustrations stemmed solely from having to move back in with my parents. It was fine for a bit, until the job search was excruciatingly slow. I yearned for independence and understanding, however, my family couldn’t grasp why I wanted to go back so badly.  

The Readjustment Phase

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Readjusting anywhere takes time; settling in, gaining employment, and finding your groove. After the depression has lifted, recovery and acceptance sets in. I have currently plateaued at this stage. I have accepted that I am home for the time being and have come to terms that the right job will show up. I decided to be present; enjoy my time with friends, be social, join a kickball league, take trips, and soak up the memories while I can. I can’t change the circumstances, but I can change how I react to it.  

The Adaptation Phase

Congratulations, have you survived the tumultuous roller coaster! Your life is back to “normal” and you have completely adapted back into your home country. I wish I had better insight into this stage, but I keep stubbornly stiff-arming this stage as I am not ready for it. However, from moving frequently in the past, I can assure this phase is pleasant. Your memories from the past held close to your heart, yet you’re now at peace in your new home.

Although reverse culture shock has been difficult, I have been completely grateful for my time home. Prior to coming home, I felt like I was missing out on a lot of monumental things going on in my family and friends lives. I was able to attend my niece’s kindergarten functions, witness the birth my best friend’s son, and be there for a few friends who were going through some difficult events. At the expense of sounding too spiritual, I like to think the universe sent me home for a reason. Coming home allowed me to see that I am not quite ready to set my roots in the U.S yet…or ever. There are many more adventures to be had and untold stories to be written abroad. At best, I will now be fully prepared for that after shock shall it ever return again.