In the summer of 2011, a year after my high school graduation, I packed up my entire life in a suitcase and left for America in pursuit of Education. Having a passion to help those in need and being from a closed community where all I was taught was to love and serve others, it made a perfect sense for me to hurry home to Nepal, where 21% of the country’s population is under poverty line.
I was determined Not to follow the American dream once I graduate, but immediately return back Home where there’s unlimited opportunities to serve. I was bound to get the degree and Not just return Home, but return Unchanged. Thus, I tried my best Not get too familiar and comfortable with the American lifestyle. I just was not going to like pizza, burgers, fries, pops, and so on. I took pride in my nationality and was determined to stick to my identity. I have to admit that I was little critical about the way of life in America for a while. I was not going to spend too much time with my American friends, so, when I was not in class, I spent most of my time in the Library or in my dorm doing homework. I aced all my exams and got the in the Dean’s list severs semesters.
The truth was before too long i had American best friends and without even realizing, Steak became my favorite food, and I am from a country where it is illegal to eat beef. One day I found myself naming all the American brand-named clothes, bags, and shoes, and i was never into fashion when i was home.
As planed, In July 2015 right after my college graduation, I packed my entire life in a suitcase again and returned home where it all began. I was proud of myself for not changing my decision to return even though it is rare that people leave America after getting in. But, as for me, my Grand future was waiting for me in Nepal.
I had about 6 months of honeymoon period where I was in a LA-LA Land, extremely happy to be Home. I was in the cloud to be stepping on my own country’s soil; my motherland, to have my family and friends welcome me with tears of joy. Then, the reality hit me. I realized that EVERYTHING I was missing and longing to see did not excite me as much as I thought. In fact everything drove me crazy. The smell, noise, traffic, government, food, people, my own family and friends. Nothing was as I imagined. Everything had changed, including my family dynamic.
I had just left the place where I never quite felt like I fit in to the place where I actually belonged and supposed to fit right in without having to work hard. But, it wasn’t really the case. I felt lost. Deep loneliness, frustration, and confusion took over me. I started missing my life that i had just left behind. I was not sure what was happening to me. I could not accurately describe to anyone what I was going through. My emotions were all over the place. The struggle did not only last for days, weeks, and months, even after 3 years, I was having a hard time.
After much research, I realized that I was going though the phase of reverse culture shock.
I was first introduced to this term during my International Business class in America. Like any other student and any other class, I memorized the term and everything related to it to pass the exam. I did not believe that it was a Real thing that applied to me. Since I was so confident that when I return home I was going to Rock it. I was going to re-adapt with No Problem. Even for some one as me, who intentionally tried my best Not to get too immersed to the American culture went through so much after returning, so, the struggle is real.
Everyone experiences it, it is just that some people may experience little more extreme than others. The experience maybe unique to every individual. Mild to ugly. Here are few things from my personal experience that might help some people to prepare for it and deal with it, which i wish i had known before i moved back.
What is reverse culture shock?
What to expect?
How to prepare?
What to do and Not to do after returning home.
How the loved ones at home can help
Many people are aware of the challenges people face in relation to culture shock when arriving in a new country. Often when people are prepared for it because they expect challenges.
- Culture shock is expected, but reverse culture shock is not expected
- People understand when you struggle adapting into a new culture but people do not understand your struggle adapting into your own culture
- People expect you to be different in a new place, but people expect you to be the same person when you first left
The term “reverse culture shock” might not be familiar to everyone. It is a condition that affects those returning home after living in a different country for extended periods of time.
What to expect?
- You will find yourself being critical about EVERYTHING: You have gotten used to the way of life in a different culture. Without even knowing you have been transformed; your taste, perception, choices, and basically your lifestyle.
- You will find people changed: Everything and everyone has adapted to the changes that happened while you were gone. Your parents, siblings, best friends, neighbors, and so on are in a different place in all aspects, physically, mentally, spiritually, financially, relationally, etc. than you remember them. They are older. Maybe your siblings and friends have graduated, gotten married, have kids, hold new jobs/positions, have different financial status. Your friends or best friends have probably made new friends and best friends that you don’t even know.
- You no longer feel like you fit in: Experiencing life in a different culture significantly impact your identity. You don’t think and live like you used to anymore. You are used to different “normal”. You get used to talk about the current happenings where you live, learn to laugh at their jokes, which may not sound funny at all in your culture. You may have a feeling of disorientation or isolation, which can lead to a loss of identity if not dealt on time.
- Your home isn’t the home you remember: You are not going to find your place in your family, society, friends circle right away. They have gotten used to life without you around them, and vice-versa. Even though sentimentally you have always had your place in their hearts, there hasn’t been a bed, chair at the dining table, and Christmas gifts under the tree with your name on it. The family members might undergo through some changes and relate to each other differently than you remember. The family traditions and rules might have changed.
- People are not excited to hear about your experience in the foreign country as much as you are excited to share: You come home with a pool of unique new experiences from abroad which NO One around you can relate to. You might get excited to share about every little thing, but the listeners get tired of you talking about the things that they can not even relate to. Not because they do not care, it is because all they can do is nod their head, they have nothing to add to and eventually it gets old and boring.
- You have changed: The person you are now returning from immersing in a different culture is not the same person you left in the first place. You have been transformed intellectually and personally and have learned to function well with the way of life there. You have new habits, values, ideas. You think that everyone and everything has changed, but you don’t realize you have Changed. Everybody is struggling to accept the “changed” you while you are struggling to accept the changed EVERYONE. While you are trying to re-learn your own culture, others are trying to learn the culture that you brought with you. The only deal is that it is you alone against everything and everyone.
- You are No longer a foreigner: Usually, people from other nations get interested in you and culture while you are abroad. You get to brag about your country and culture. You get lots of attention for being different and having something unique to add to their information. But, when you come back to your own culture, you look like and expected to act like everyone else. You don’t get to act different, but you actually are different. People just don’t see it.
- You miss your life abroad: After being abroad for a while, you learn to adapt to life there. Slowly your home culture and memories fade in the background while you work hard to fit in the new culture. After going through the whole culture shock stage, you conquer it and become comfortable with everything. So, coming back home leaving behind everything that you worked so hard for to where you are supposed to have a sense of belonging, but you don’t quite feel so can cause you to question your decision to move back home and miss what you left behind.
- People will judge you: Whether you have moved back to the third world country from a developed country, or vice-versa, people will criticize you for who you have become. Especially, if the home culture and the host country’s cultures are the opposite extremes. For example, if you have moved home in an extreme collectivistic culture from an extreme individualistic culture, people may say that you have become selfish and self-centered. Likewise, if you have moved home in an extreme individualistic culture from an extreme collectivistic culture, people may think that you no longer respect people’s personal space. They might judge the way you think, talk, eat, do life.
- Not everyone will applaud you: People around you will react differently to your move and the changes they see in you. You might have to deal with some negativity that might be rooted in feeling of jealousy, inferiority or superiority. Moving back from America, the land of opportunities to one of the top third world countries with No solid plan, some people thought I was stupid.
How to prepare?
- Do some serious Homework: Before you make the actual move, do some online research, or talk to the people back home about all the changes that have happened while you were gone, in the family, community, country, social, economic, political and EVERYTHING, so get an idea what to expect.
- Have a routine ready: This is important, especially if you are moving home from a country where “Time” is everything and if you are used to having a regular routine and pattern of life. People are not going to sit around entertaining you. Your coming is only an event for everyone else, then, they all move on to their daily routine.
- Have a source of Income ready: No matter what culture you are moving from or to, being independent is important. A lot of time when we think of Home, we think of unlimited love and resources. We like to believe that everything and everyone will always work on our favor, but the reality is no matter how much people love you, it is always best if you are a blessing, not a burden. It is not a great feeling to become dependent on others on top of all the other adjustments you have to go through.
- Find someone who have been through the same road ahead: No matter how well-prepared you feel, someone who has been through the situation already can give you some good advice.
- Make the move slow: It is always best to learn how to swim before jumping in the pool hoping to survive just because you are familiar with the pool. Do Not get too excited about returning home and ignore the realities. Take a good amount of time preparing your heart, mind, emotions, etc.
What to do and Not to do after returning home.
- Know that it is ok to miss what you just left behind: Don’t feel guilty about missing what you had in the host country.
- Do not expect things and people to be the same when you first left
- Do not be too hard on yourself
- Do not wear yourself out during the honeymoon period
- Have Some saving ready to financially support yourself while you are in the transition period
- People will judge you, DO NOT get discouraged
- Make new friends who never knew you before who will not expect you to be different while you re-establish your friendship with the ones you had before you left
- Find people who are from the host country while you slowly re-adapt into your own culture, so the transition is slow and smooth
- Have patience with yourself and with everyone and everything around you
- Accept the fact that they have changed and you have changed
- Do not be judgmental toward your culture
- Do not spend too much time on social media staying too connected to the people you just left behind
How can the loved ones around them help?
- Prepare yourself for them to come
- Patience! Patienc! Patience. Be patient and give them time to slowly re-adapt. It is not going to be magical. It takes time.
- Do not be judgmental: I was accused of being proud, un-interested in my own culture. Even after 5 years of returning, i still get “you are no longer the person you used to be before you went to America” statement a lot.
- Accept the fact that they have changed. He/she is no longer the person you waved goodbye to. They are older, more independent with a pool of experience that you probably have no idea about.
- Give them their space: Do not keep reminding them that they have changed. Leave them alone and give them time to breathe and think
- Be gracious: You will find them being critical about everything, forgive them and wait for them to re-adapt and see things through your eyes
- Listen and Ask about their foreign experience: Do not shut them down and ignore when they want to share about their experiences abroad. It might be the only content they know to talk about yet
- Lower your expectation and accept whatever comes: Sometimes having too much expectations can put unnecessary pressure on top of all the other emotional roller coasters they are going through
- Slowly update them on all the changes that happened: Have answers ready for what, why, where, how, who, and so on
- Be available for them: The worst thing you can do to someone going through reverse culture shock is completely isolate them. Spend time with them. Find things they like to do, involve them without asking too much from them.
Reverse culture shock is real. A lot of time people do not recognize it and become victims of depression. Knowing and accepting that this is real and preparing oneself and finding healthy ways to deal with it will save you from lots of frustrations that could be avoided if you were educated about it.