Reverse Culture Shock – When home isn’t home anymore

reverse culture shock china beijingRemember when you first arrived in Beijing, how exciting it was in the beginning? How the excitement then gave way to frustration, when you couldn’t communicate, or the air quality index hit 300 again? With frustration probably also came annoyance, at the pushing and shoving, the spitting, those weird Chinese habits.

You experienced culture shock.

But eventually you settled in, felt comfortable and started to enjoy life. Living in Beijing became familiar.

How does reverse culture shock happen?

Going back home, even if only for a summer vacation, may bring the same U-shape curve of culture shock, only in reverse.

You enjoy blue skies and clean air at home like never before. People, habits and food are familiar. Public toilets are clean and don’t smell. You finally blend in again, even if tall and blond, or black.

But … (and this is of course biased by my experiences – you probably have your own pet peeves when you visit your old country…)

The variety of choices quickly becomes an overwhelming abundance. How to choose between 100 different cereals, which fill an entire aisle in the supermarket? The 10 or so varieties at Jenny Lou made that job much easier. Sticker shock sets in as well. Everything seems so expensive, especially eating out and transportation.

Fat people everywhere. Life is dominated by cars (well, in the US it usually is). There’s no cheap and good public transportation, so you always have to borrow or rent a car or ask for a ride.

And then this feeling you can’t quite put your finger on. Compared to Beijing, life seems so boring. Everyone seems so settled.

At first people are curios about your strange life in a country far away but they quickly lose interest in something that’s important to you. The same way as you have missed many important things in their lives. Their lives have gone without you, and you seem to have little left in common.

It seems nothing has changed at home, except for you. And now you don’t feel like you fit in anymore.

So how do you deal with reverse culture shock?

I think it helps to keep trips back short and sweet and filled with activities. That way, time will fly and reverse culture shock has not time to hit you that hard.

Moving back entirely however is a different story. I can’t comment on that yet. But I hear from friends how hard it is to settle back into the old live, no matter if that new old life is in Paris, Frankfurt, or Connecticut.

Patience, flexibility and an open mind, the same things you had to cultivate to settle into life in Beijing, will probably pay off eventually when you move back. Be prepared  to see your old country with different eyes and set out to explore it again, like a new expat.

Or you could just move on to the next exciting place …


Reverse Culture Shock – When home isn’t home anymore — 2 Comments

  1. Reverse culture shock for me was: Wow… most of the people I respected growing up, and before I left for the Asias, are far more racist and mysoginistic than I thought. That Chinese restaurant food that I thought was great tasted like it was cooked last week frozen thawed and frozen and thawed before being overcooked again…

    In SK and China I got used to farmers markets. Those at home are usually overpriced with very little selection. Try SK or Chinese farmer’s markets: overabundance of selection at startlingly low prices.

    My friends… they got older, as did I.. gray is going all around. But they seem mentally stunted…

    The ‘white noise’ of random conversations that happen around me in Asia is so easy to ignore. Going back home… suddenly I’m hearing what people talk about and understand it. And wish I didn’t.

    At first I loved the fresh air of the small 60k town… this after getting used to a 2m city being regarded as a small city… and then choking on the smoke from folks still using wood to keep their homes warm… watching a single chimney spew enough particulate matter to cover a block when there’s no wind.

    Reverse culture shock is quite real. The funny thing, though, is it was far more shocking. My first year in SK, I expected the culture shock. I was ready for it. No one told me about going home… Anyways… cheers.

    • Thank you for sharing!
      I think people who never experienced different cultures can not understand how reverse culture shock happens. But it is real. And unexpected. Happy (re)adapting!