Reverse Culture Shock: The Reality of Coming Home
Today, having international experiences is becoming increasingly important, especially as students are becoming more competitive by nature and seeking ways to get an edge on their peers. The job market is continuously looking for well-rounded individuals and the act of traveling definitely shows the effort of having stepped out of the box that is traditional education. Likewise, travel as a whole has become more accessible to the masses, and by result, many are partaking. As someone who has gone abroad for both work and study, I am familiar with the beauty of travel…as well as the bittersweet feeling associated with coming home. Despite being surrounded by so many familiar faces and objects, I’ve frequently had moments of deep realization that I am no longer the same person I was pre-travel; I’ve changed and now see things through a new lens. While this new growth and altered perspective allows for some initial discomfort—or reverse culture shock, as it is called—returning home also sheds light on aspects that I had once been taken for granted.
Here are some of the things that in my return home, I found I really appreciated, especially in battling reverse culture shock:
Being able to communicate with ease is one of the biggest aspects that play into the comfort while being abroad. While traveling and trying to communicate, one has to constantly take into consideration the varying factors of cultural, economic and social contexts of the surrounding country—not to mention also try to understand the spoken language! There is a lot to process, especially with the abundance of customs and traditions different than the ones practiced back at home. Living in a foreign country helps individuals to acknowledge uniqueness and understand the people of different nations, all while broadening one’s understanding of the world. Though the experience is beautiful, such sometimes coming home reminds me just how thankful I am to have my native tongue (English) so widely spoken, as well as have a place or origin where I can communicate with others freely and have them readily understand the context of which I speak.
There are so many things that make up living expenses while abroad, including but not limited to accommodation, transportation, food, health, taxes, and any entertainment in exploring one’s new home. In a new country, these expenses may differ from what one is used to and while some may be relatively cheaper than those at home, others may be astronomically larger. Constantly having to convert currencies and try to understand the value of things in a new place can be exhausting. One starts questioning the economics behind everything and trying to quantify values that he or she isn’t sure are even quantifiable. Even if certain aspects at home are pricier, the simplicity of familiar economics and prices can be a definite relief for a weary traveler.
I never used to appreciate the value of having “customer service” until I lived in a country where having a 24/7 helpline wasn’t so highly valued. Being able to call 1-800 and have a sales representative answer the phone with a greeting such as “How can I make your day better?” can make one feel so much more at home and at ease. After being away I realized how much customer service is part of the North-American culture and it is something that I’m really proud of in our country. In a moment of crisis, it can definitely make all the difference.
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Coming from a multicultural city, I am blessed to have a large selection of authentic international food choices at my fingertips. However, when living abroad, this was not always the case. I found myself suddenly limited to what was available at the local grocery store, seasonally, or what the locals favored to eat. Some of my favorite foods, even if made by myself, sometimes tasted differently due to changed ingredients, or varied means of cooking, for example, with less salt. I found the cuisine type I wanted, it was not as authentic as it was at home. I dearly missed home cooking and certain restaurants and realized how fortunate I was that I lived in a multicultural mosaic city with such a range of cuisine.
Upon coming home, a traveler will sometimes see their friends and family’s lives of 9-5 routine as being so mundane, especially when compared to a life on the road. However, after a time, travel can wear a person out–- it’s exhausting to learn a new language, assimilate into a new culture, explore, and maintain a sense of balance! As lucky as it may be to see the world, sometimes there is a certain beauty in being able to breathe a little and lean into the comfort of a familiar routine…and there is no shame in that. One realizes how lucky they had been to be able to go out and explore, to ‘sink or swim’ through hardships independently, but also to come back and be among the people they love again. Through travel one can learn to embrace living in the moment, to be more adventurous, and to never stop striving for the better. Through coming home, he or she can put the insight to good use and appreciate what “home” might really be.
As much as I missed all the benefits of being a local, traveling really does change one’s perspective and how one views life. It showed me that I have often take the simple things in life for granted and that it is not the same across all cultures. There’s a reason why they call it home sweet home, and indeed it is awesome to return home and to enjoy all the best things for free again. Like they said, the best things are for free, and among my friends, family and welcoming people all over, life is truly at its best.
This article was originally published in Life After Study Abroad