Reverse Culture Shock

     Funny enough, one of the most frustrating aspects of traveling can actually be coming home. After experiencing such highs or lows, no matter the length of your trip, you may feel unfulfilled when touching back with humdrum reality. Maybe little things like not being able to crack open a beer in the park annoy you. Maybe it's just feeling alone with people who can't relate. While you were gone, maybe you imagined the parties you were missing with friends, and returned to find nobody actually has any free time for a warming welcome. Whatever the reason is, dealing with nostalgia or  displacement in comfortable normalcy, these things can lead you to feeling too foreign for your own home.

 

     Ex-pats normally return home and become unfulfilled with day-to-day life to make ends meet. In contrast to culture shock being defined by the W curve, reverse culture shock is defined by the U curve. You might be excited to return home and see family and friends, drive your car or even wear old clothes again. Honestly you might be ecstatic to grab your favorite fast food you secretly died without. After that euphoria wears off and you find yourself blending back into your own culture, you might miss everything about where you had came from abroad. This is described as the bottom of the U curve, although the good news is the roughest part is almost over. There'll always be a gradual adjustment to comprehending how to manage both aspects of your brain, home mode and world traveler mode.

 

Expansion and Retraction

     It can be easy to isolate yourself after a big trip abroad because you might think none of your friends at home could understand what you've been doing. Your mind has virtually exploded with cultural expansion and it'll be like coming off a high. Surround yourself with a solid group of people for support. Even though they may have never felt what you are feeling, hopefully they'll be able to sympathize and remind you where you come from. Have patience with them, everyone is on their own journey and knowledgable about different things. Before you went abroad, you were probably a different person. Would you be able to relate back to your old self?

Remember to make sure not to start every sentence with, “when I was in ____,” since people tend to find that annoying and pompous.

     It is okay to be proud of your experiences and personal growth. I find myself wanting to incorporate personal stories to conversation because they often relate.  If one has a lot of life experience and stories to tell from abroad, that's great... But don't be that person who can't hold their tongue if feeling the vibe that your conversing partners aren't fond of the wanderlust soaked intellectual input. Just as you should be able to translate your experiences onto a resume after traveling for later success, you should be able to translate your experiences in a un-intimidating manner for those who are uncomfortable if they can't relate. What about all those friends from home on Facebook who are engaged or having babies? They are going through huge journeys as well and learnign lessons you have not learned yet. Perhaps picking up your social life again should include coffee dates to compare such journeys with some of them. Everyone is changing in different ways, whether you were while in Namibia, or they were on the same cul de sac you grew up on.

 

Explore your hometown like you would on a vacation

     It’s easy to look at a place that you aren’t currently living in and see it through rose-colored glasses. They always say, the grass is always greener on the other side, right? The irony of that is one may feel unsatisfied or seeking what they left behind whichever place you end up. In order to make being home more exciting, it's important to continue making your days adventurous, as you would have traveling to satisfy the potential uprise of cabin fever. I'm sure there are parts of your town you've never discovered; new restaurants that may have opened while you were gone, a park you haven't been to since you were a child, etc. Staycations are helpful to fall back in love with where we come from. They help us plant the roots back after we had uprooted for a while. I'm positive there are people at home who have felt how you might be feeling too. Find expat friends, attend a meet up event with people related to where you traveled to. If you have trouble imagining where to hang out or what to see, think as if you have an international friend coming into town to visit. What is your favorite treasure spot you'd want them to see? Treat your city like home and an adventure all at once.

 

YOU'VE CHANGED FOREVER AND THERE'S NO GOING BACK

     BREATHE. You just had the experience of a lifetime, whom many people might struggle to understand. You should smile at the memories, take the experiences and turn them into wisdom, and plan to continue more traveling if you wish. If it is unfortunately time to wake up early and pay the bills, it might be time to plan for your future in an academic, familial or corporate way. Whatever it has to come, you will carry your experience into the future, carved and imprint on the walls of your heart and soul. You are not the same you from last year. I strongly believe we have four substantial growth periods a year, just like the earth does with seasonal changes. But the additional change one has when traveling or living abroad can be the most drastic. It can be the most liberating, scariest and life changing experience of your life. If you wind up addicted to that rush, you'll find ways to always hop on planes again. For this reason alone, I have continued to seek work abroad to keep my life exciting. I have missed the absolute freedom and cultural challenges that reenergize my soul. How long will this last? When does one reach their threshold, either committing to truly relocating and make a home abroad - or ultimately returning to their country? Whatever the path may be for you, stay calm and maintain your adventurous spirit no matter where you are in the world. As uneasy as this normal emotional response is, you are LUCKY to be having this all even on your mind! Your old values and home can now be viewed from a fresh perspective, seeing life or family in a new expanded light. Maintain your style and keep the international mindset. Trust me, you got this.

Alexandra Martinez