Returning Home After Traveling Abroad: Tips for Overcoming Reverse Culture Shock

When you travel and live in another country, you perhaps experienced culture shock. You read articles, attend workshops, resort to your friends, and find ways of overcoming it. However, reverse culture shock is thought to be worse than the original culture shock. There are no guidebooks and seminars on how to overcome reverse culture shock. It is unexpected, exists in subtlety, and is difficult to overcome. It was not something most travelers prepared for.

Five years ago, when I returned home from Hawaii, I had many unpleasant experiences caused by reverse culture shock. This time it has become easier, but it is still something that takes time to overcome.

Moving home after traveling abroad: how to overcome reverse culture shock

What is reverse culture shock? 

Investopedia defines reverse culture shock as “The shock suffered by some people when they return home after a number of years overseas. This can result in unexpected difficulty in readjusting to the culture and values of the home country, now that the previously familiar has become unfamiliar”. 

Reverse culture shock starts with the expectations of picking up what is supposed to be left off in your hometown. However, when you return home, everything is different. People change, friends parted ways, and home is a strange place. In my case, my hometown has changed to the point I do not even recognize most parts. People, things, and places change over time and it is easy to forget that when you are overseas.

I was an alien in my own country. My own attitudes had changed so it was difficult to understand my own customs”. – Landis 2004

Three years later this time, I returned home again from Canada. This time was easier despite I was still frustrated a little. I hereby offer some helpful tips for overcoming reverse culture shock.

Be ready for it

Reverse culture shock hits many as a surprise, because not so many travelers can imagine of experiencing culture shock at their motherland. It is hard to accept and re-adjust, but it is necessary to know reverse culture shock is unavoidable and be prepared for it.

Book your next travel

Holding a return ticket back to Canada is one thing I did that saved my sanity. I had many frustrations and emotional moments on return home. A return ticket was an assurance reverse culture shock would end and I had a new adventure to expect.

Moving home after traveling abroad: how to overcome reverse culture shock

Write about it

Many people at home do not understand our experience of reverse culture shock and sharing to them is utterly useless. To pour your experience and feelings on paper is a great consolation. It helps you to process and clear your mind, and you will feel a lot better afterward. What you decide to write about is totally up to you, and you can just purely vent and brain dump. You do not have to share it with anyone, but it is a great feeling to get it out and not keep everything inside you.

Keep in touch with your international friends

While living in North America, I made many amazing friends from all around the world. We now live in different countries, but we still keep in touch with each other.  I use Skype video chats and Facebook to keep tabs with my friends abroad. We even talk about meeting in Brazil and Colombia when I get to South America.

Moving home after traveling abroad: how to overcome reverse culture shock
International friends I met during my first year in Canada. We still talk about meeting in Europe and Canada.

Give yourself time and space to re-adjust

My biggest mistake when I returned home was to keep meeting all my family members and friends during the first week. Although all reunions went great, I was emotionally exhausted. I quickly realized that my body and brain needed time to learn and process what happened at home.

Realize that people change

One of the most frustration parts of reverse culture shock is that during your time abroad, life moves on. When I returned home, I found that I had nothing in common with most friends and even my family members. Holding a conversation became a chore. In this case, I recommend you to stay up-to-date with your friends and family, and knowing what happens to them and their values will keep you in the loop.

Seek out new experiences

The exciting part of traveling abroad is that everything is new and everyday is an adventure. When you return home, you will fall back to the mundane and everything is familiar. However, you can still visit new places, meet new people, and explore different parts of the city. Treat returning home as if you are in a new place and seeing it through a different lens will pique your spirit of adventure again.

Moving home after traveling abroad: how to overcome reverse culture shock

Before going home, travel to countries similar to yours

If possible, traveling to a country with a culture similar to your own can be a great help in overcoming reverse culture shock. Before return to China, I spent two weeks in Thailand. China and Thailand are two different countries, but both nations are on the same continent and share many similar traditions and cultures.

Unlike returning home directly and quickly throwing yourself into group settings, you can take time exploring and re-adapting at your own pace.  Countries on the same continent, close to your home, and have the same official language (e.g., traveling to Canada before returning to the USA and vice versa) are the best destinations to choose.

Moving home after traveling abroad: how to overcome reverse culture shock
Enjoy my afternoon on the beach on Koh Chang, Thailand /Photo credit: Julie Cao

Cherish your time with family and friends

Despite all of your frustrations, enjoy spending time with your family and friends. You will not see your family and friends as often as you used to and every visit becomes precious. Some of our parents are aging and spending quality time with them is important. Knowing always having a home to return to is a blessing.

Reverse culture shock is hard and can be frustrating, and it is difficult to explain to your loved ones and find a solution. Despite being home for two weeks, I am still re-adjusting and reconnecting with my friends and family. Things are gradually getting back to normal as the time goes on. I am gradually accepting the new landscape my hometown brings and preparing for my next adventure.

Moving home after traveling abroad: how to overcome reverse culture shock

Have you experienced reverse culture shock? Feel free to share your experience below.

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Moving home after traveling abroad: how to overcome reverse culture shock

 

 

Julie Cao

Julie Cao is a travel blogger, travel writer, and global citizen currently living in Toronto Ontario.

19 thoughts on “Returning Home After Traveling Abroad: Tips for Overcoming Reverse Culture Shock

  • May 9, 2017 at 4:29 pm
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    It is so true and yeah, it is not dealt with the same seriousness of cultural shock is! I’ve seen in a couple of friends who left India about 5 yrs ago or more and came back. They couldn’t understand how India has gotten more modern and with inflation the prices had increased. And I was all the more astonished when people who moved out of India decades ago, said very weird things like bullockcart mode of transport or elephants on road, when I was Europe, as they still assume India has frozen in time decades ago!!!

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    • May 10, 2017 at 3:09 pm
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      It is amazing to see how a country can change over the 5-years time. It takes time to get used to the new systems. Cannot believe people from India still have impressions of elephants on the road, it only exists in the movies.

      Reply
  • May 9, 2017 at 6:31 pm
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    Beautiful emotions just feeling that someone is writing my story. When we return back we are happy to return to homeland but some vaccum is left in our heart which cannot be filled by anything. Memories are left behind and with those memories we have to live.

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    • May 10, 2017 at 3:12 pm
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      Part of our heart (some vaccum here) are left on the other side of the world. With the time goes it will get easier, but memories never fade.

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  • May 9, 2017 at 6:46 pm
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    Coming home after extended travel isn’t always as easy as people might think it is. Old relationships have to be re-enforced and people don’t really understand the feelings you are experiencing being home again. Some great tips here on staying connected to the things that are most important to you.

    Reply
  • May 10, 2017 at 6:13 am
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    I completely understand where you’re coming from with this post. I lived in France for a couple years and when I returned, I felt like a complete outsider! I wish I had this to read, it would have definitely helped my transition:-)

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    • May 10, 2017 at 3:15 pm
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      I too sometimes feel like a guest at home and it is so weird. Glad it helps you. Wish you have a smooth transition in your home coming,

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  • May 10, 2017 at 11:31 am
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    This is such a great guide! It’s definitely tough to come home and realize so many people don’t really understand what you’ve learned. Having another trip lined up is a great idea! So is hanging out more with family and friends

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    • May 10, 2017 at 3:21 pm
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      I wish there would be a reverse culture shock class so the people at home can understand what us have been through abroad and that will make our transition easier. My family asked me not to book the return ticket but I am glad I did. Now at least I have something to expect whenever I get frustrated.

      Reply
  • May 10, 2017 at 12:11 pm
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    I’ve never experienced this before as I’ve not been that too long away from home. It’s always been a no-place-like-home for me everytime I come back to my country. I appreciate you sharing this and will keep these pointers in mind should I get into long term travel (which I really wanted to try to discover my limits).

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    • May 10, 2017 at 3:24 pm
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      Long term travel is great and it will test your skills and limits in all aspects. I agree that there is no place like home. Despite all the culture shock, home is still home. It cannot change.

      Reply
  • May 10, 2017 at 12:40 pm
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    There are some interesting thoughts here on reverse culture shock Julie. I completely agree that we need to appreciate our aging parents and the fact that we have a home to come back to. Another thing I miss about England is the food and I really enjoy it when I go back as I’m sure you enjoy the Chinese food when home. But then at home you miss the food you’ve tried whilst travelling, like BBQ pork neck in Thailand!

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    • May 10, 2017 at 3:40 pm
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      haha you just had BBQ pork neck, didn’t you? The food is always something we miss about. I now eat lots of good Chinese food everyday. Hope you have found some quality English food in Bangkok.

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  • May 10, 2017 at 5:51 pm
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    All great tips! I’ve never traveled long enough to experience reverse culture shock upon coming home, but I’ve spoken with plenty of people who have experienced this. I think finding a community of people who have gone through the same thing would be a helpful first step.

    Reply
    • May 11, 2017 at 4:13 am
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      It will be nice to meet people who have been through the same thing. Wish you will never experience reverse culture shock, it is painful 🙂 Happy travels and your digital nomad journey!

      Reply
  • May 11, 2017 at 9:57 am
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    I can completely identify with all the points you mentioned, I have not been to a different country but to a city far away from my own; now when I think of returning to my home I am overwhelmed with so many types of feelings. I cannot bind those feelings into words, I feel happy and sad at the same time. It is so weird. I think the key to prevent yourself from reverse culture shock is continuously keep in touch with your family and friends through internet (which you have already mentioned). Otherwise it would be so much more shocking!

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    • May 19, 2017 at 3:45 pm
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      I have mixed feeling returning home too, dont know if I am going home or leaving home. It is really an overwhelming feeling. We just keep in touch with our friends and family, and then at home we keep in touch with other friends in another home. Something is always missing.

      Reply
  • July 31, 2017 at 1:11 am
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    Great post – this has been on my mind as I was just recently writing about our return home after living abroad in Fiji. The islands are very different to NZ. Life here in NZ is certainly more convenient but it was very hard initially to adjust from island life. I cried every day to start with! I think trying new things as you mentioned, and making connections are the things that helped me the most. For me, having a sense of belonging again was the most important thing.

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    • July 31, 2017 at 12:01 pm
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      Hi Juliette, I can relate to that as well. I cried everyday for months after left Hawaii, and it is so hard and takes time to adjust. I think part of it is that you love Fiji and when we live in a place we love, move away can be very difficult. New Zealand is a great country (I have thought of working there for a year) and hope you will enjoy winter there, and I am glad this post help you!

      Reply

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