We have all heard of culture shock. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as: “a sense of confusion and uncertainty sometimes with feelings of anxiety that may affect people exposed to an alien culture or environment without adequate preparation.” We all expect to feel a sense of culture shock when we are arriving in a new country or even moving to a new state! However, believe it or not, there is such a thing as reverse culture shock. This is the process of feeling the same effects of culture shock, except it is felt after returning to one’s home culture after growing accustomed to a new one.
After I studied abroad in 2007, I returned home and felt very sad and lost. I had fallen in love with Australia, its people, the sunshine, relaxed way of life and the way that it enabled me to change and grow as a person. Then I returned home to a place that did not change. It was winter and there was no sun. No one wanted to hear my travel stories. The way of life was fast paced and very intimidating to me. I was very sad and overwhelmed and wanted nothing more than to return to Australia. Unfortunately, I was unable to at that time.
Eventually, after easing myself back into my original way of life, staying busy and reconnecting with friends and family, I started to feel better. Australia would always be a part of me, I would always miss it and I would always long to go back. However, the shock that I felt upon my return home to the United States lessened over time. I maintained contact with my Australian friends and life continued on.
Now, I live in Australia and it has been two years since I last visited home. Over those two years, I have become very involved in the Australian way of life, more so than when I studied abroad. I use Australian words and slang frequently. I am completely used to the slower pace. I embrace the weather and the liveliness of the country’s nature all year round. I am used to having a long distance relationship with my family and friends from the United States. I travel a lot and that is very respected in Australia, unlike my small town back home.
As of a week ago, I have re-entered the United States for a visit home for the Christmas holidays. I went through complete reverse culture shock after entering the airport in New York City. The people sounded like they were yelling and they were ushering me along. Outside, it was cold and dreary. The coffee wasn’t fancy but rather coffee from a pot. Driving on the other side of the road was a challenge. I was so confused and occasionally turning into wrong lanes. Over a few days, I felt very stressed by every little thing. My parents didn’t understand that my life is different now and were very intense as well. I felt sad and almost regretted coming home for a month. I am missing out on summer! I couldn’t believe it! I had just been preaching to my students about reverse culture shock just a few weeks before I left. Now, I am going through it all over again! However, this time I know what to do and how to deal with it.
I don’t get offended when people don’t want to hear about my travels. I remind myself that it is Christmas soon and that the frightful weather outside plays its part. I remind myself of all the reasons why I came to visit: to possibly enjoy a white Christmas, to eat the foods that I cannot get in Australia, to catch up with my family and friends, to see all of the festive Christmas decorations everywhere, to see my family dog and to take advantage of the really cheap makeup and clothes! There is one key principle that I have learned to live by over the past couple of years and that is staying positive. In my opinion, staying positive is the cure for reverse culture shock. There is nothing worse than dwelling on how bad you feel and focusing on all of the negative aspects around you. By staying positive and focusing on the good things around you, you are enhancing your mood and therefore, you are able to deal with adjustment period better.
Of course you have the choice on how to feel but having a positive attitude will make reverse culture shock last for a shorter amount of time. I wish all the best to the previous IFSA-Butler students and if you have experienced reverse culture shock (or still are experiencing it) then now you know a great cure!! Just know that many people go through it and that it is completely normal! Stay positive!