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 is the creator of Always On The Way. She lived in Hawaii and now resides in London (Ontario, Canada). In 2017, she went on an overland trip from Bogota Colombia to Puerto Williams, the southernmost city in the world. She believes travel is not only about visiting tourist attractions but more about getting to know the culture, people, and the place.

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