The 10 Commandments of Reverse Culture Shock
Leaving the comfort and safety of a place we call home can be intimidating with the prospects of unknown cultures, foreign food and strangers, but it’s not long before we adapt to our new lifestyle and flourish. What many travellers fail to credit is the culture shock of coming home. The sparkle of seeing friends, visiting your old hangout spots and eating at your favourite restaurant is enough to distract you at first but you’ll soon realize that living back ‘home’ is not quite what it used to be. Here are the ten commandments of reverse culture shock, a little guidance for the jolt that is assimilating back into your old life.
1. Respect thy friends and family.
You have just returned from a life changing adventure, and although you’ve done cyber justice by posting photos on Facebook and Instagram, you can’t wait to share all those special details and memories with your friends that you’ve been missing! At first they’ll be excited as well, but chances are they will quickly grow weary of hearing about your colourful life abroad, especially if they have been staying at home.
Feelings of jealousy, and resentment are likely to follow suit if you continue on about this fantastic temple or your special volunteer abroad project. Be considerate and share your experiences with a large helping of humility and respect, or your stories will start to reek of being pretentious and over privileged. Make sure to keep your interactions balanced by asking them what they have been up to, even if it may be a little less colourful than your adventures abroad. Another tactic is to find online forums and groups for fellow travellers who are just as itchy to share their tales with others who will understand. And most importantly, keep in touch with all of the nomads you have met, and relive all those special memories together.
2. Thou shall not speak in foreign tongues.
When you arrived in your new home overseas, you may have had to learn a new language, or at least a few new words to help you navigate. Now that you’re back in your home country, you may find yourself dropping foreign jargon in your daily life because you are so used to using those words. Being back home calls for a lingo shift back to the local norm, as uttering “terima kasi” may garner a few puzzled looks when you mean to thank someone.
Similar to telling travel tales that your hometown friends can’t relate to, talking in another language will leave them just as alienated. It’s not uncommon for people to feel as though you are trying to show off how cultured and well travelled you are, which can be rather obnoxious. You were considerate about speaking the local language while you were abroad, now it’s time to be courteous and speak in the same language as everyone else. If you are interested in maintaining your new linguistic skills, there are many language schools and online language programs that can help you exercise these talents.
3. Thou shall eat regular food
Returning home you may at first be thrilled to hit up your favorite restaurants, savor mom’s home cooking or maybe revisit a famed fast food joint for a signature dish. But coming home to a much missed comfort food, means leaving behind the exotic food you were indulging in while you were away. Different cultures bring forth new edible experiences, anything from crispy cockroaches to sublime sukiyaki.
With the culinary confluence that we exist in today, chances are even after returning home you will still be able to find an outlet with your new found favorites, however restaurants tend to cater food to the local majority. Thai food in the United States is often more bland than the authentic recipe to suit the less seasoned spice buds of Americans, and Italian spaghetti in the Philippines is likely to be saccharine as Filipinos have a predisposition toward sweet pasta sauce. One way to tell if an international restaurant cooks authentic food is if there are numerous diners that hail from the same origin as the cuisine, since they know what the dishes should taste like, compared to new comers just being introduced to the foreign tastes.
4. Thou shall experience materialism.
Shopping abroad adds extra weight to a pack that you have to lug around and that you have to be sure to keep within airline weight restrictions. Budgeting also influences our shopping experience, deciding whether to buy a souvenir or eat is a decision that many travellers have to compromise on. You might also be influenced by the population around you, as they may not even have enough money to feed their families, let alone spend it on shopping for knick knacks.
In more developed countries, materialism reigns over communities with invasive adverts and consumer culture. When you experience a culture that places more importance on family and food rather than material desires, you might find yourself overwhelmed by the culture you return to, so allow your awareness to now help you become a more conscious consumer. Rather than scolding others for spending their money, as there are kids who don’t have shoes in some countries, make thoughtful changes to your own purchasing priorities, perhaps by donating or getting involved with an organization that distributes to those less fortunate.
5. Thou shall experience sensory overload.
While you were away, you may have learned how to live more simply, sometimes by way of cultural choice or there just weren’t that many options. Perhaps food choices may have been limited to what grew in the area, toys were what kids could find and clothes were sewn by your neighbor’s own two hands. There weren’t grocery stores with colourfully branded cans, no malls, maybe not even a real shop front in the area.
More developed locations have multiple connections that allow a wide range of products to be imported, giving you more choices, and thus more competition for your attention. This leads to a sibling complex that in order to be noticed, one must be louder, faster, bigger! You may have travelled to another major city and perhaps experienced this barrage of information to an even stronger degree, maybe in a different language that you found yourself tuning out. But many travellers returning from more rural or modest cultures have difficulty adjusting to the intensity of it all. Though you may feel overwhelmed, the sensory explosion you are experiencing is just another form of communication, another way that this culture is connecting with its people. Take a breath and spend some time in nature, revisit your photos from your tour and listen to music you enjoy while breathing thoughtfully, because in due time all the hub-bub will dim into the background.
6. Thou shall manage scheduling.
From making sure you don’t miss your flight to devising a schedule to utilize the duration of your time abroad, the responsibility of scheduling is rather important. There is a sense of freedom that you experience while abroad, staying longer or leaving sooner if you like, or perhaps taking a nap simply because you could afford the time. Planning is something you gain a lot of experience with while being abroad.
That freedom becomes compromised as you return to your old routine and you might not be ready for the frenzied whirlwind that can be reintegrating into an organized social world. What you might realize is that as a result of your experience abroad, you have a more relaxed state of being; a confidence to orchestrate your life and this is reflected in your planning methods. The structured time and date system that our civilization functions upon is inevitable, but with your new skills you can firmly take control of scheduling. Help make your life even less stressful by picking up a planner or diary to help you remember all those dates, also most smart phones have calendar and scheduling apps to assist you.
7. Thou shall adjust to the correct side of the road.
About 66% of the world drives on the right-hand side of the road, leaving the remaining 34% driving on the left-hand side. Driving a car or motorbike may be universal, but driving on the other side of the road can throw you as everything seems to be reversed, including where the driver’s seat is!
Chances are if you were in a country where you had to learn how to drive on the opposite side, and you learned rather quickly, you will be able to revert back to your old habits. If you’ve been gone awhile, make sure to be conscious while driving on the opposite side of the road. If there’s no one else on the road to follow, continue to remind yourself what side you need to be on, otherwise you could end up literally colliding with the local culture.
8. Thou shall experience superficial pressure.
No matter how many tips you read on how to look good while travelling, there is just so much more to focus on when exploring a new frontier than how you look! Sure, everyone wants to look good in photos from their trip, but are you really going to pass up authentic esgarot lathered in garlic butter sauce because you’re counting calories? When we are abroad, we have a tendency to surrender ourselves to the experience, paying more attention to the amazing culture rather than thinking about our appearance.
Now that you’re back, the excuses for making poor eating decisions and your justification of a suitcase-sized wardrobe for aren’t quite as valid. You now find yourself under pressure to look a certain way and to comply with the resident standards of appearance, but all these superficial expectations are a matter of perspective. While you were away, how great did it feel to spend your time focusing on the rest of the world around you, rather than how perfect your hair looked? Liberating right? While there may be a few adjustments to make, like trading in your travelling threads for more weather appropriate digs, maintaining a mentality that focuses your energy on continuing to explore all the amazing experiences that exist in the world is much more rewarding than fretting about having a thigh gap.
9. Thou shall resume employment.
Travel gives us a beautiful escape from our boring jobs back at home, but even if you’ve left that job and secured another, chances are that going back to work is not nearly as appealing as scaling mountains or snorkelling tropical reefs. Fitting in with a job or even finding a job is often a struggle of returning travellers, but it’s all part of the experience.
If you’ve already locked in a job upon return, a few ideas to ease your transition include planning your next trip to serve as a goal for why you are working those long hard hours, keeping your souvenirs and travel photos at home so that you can stay focused and establishing a life outside of work that is filled with like-minded individuals. If you’ve returned to a scavenger hunt on the job market, don’t view your time abroad as a negative, but rather highlight the new skills you gained and growth that occurred overseas when you are attending interviews and crafting resumes. What many people realize upon return is that the employment they once held would be in no way fulfilling to them now, utilize what you’ve learned about yourself throughout your travels towards finding a new job that you actually are interested in.
10. Thou shall keep perspective.
There may have been a lot of changes that you’ve been adjusting to now that you’re back ‘home’, but the reality is that most of your old life has stayed the same and you are the one that’s changed. Now you’re finding that ‘home’ doesn’t feel much like home at all, your friends have different priorities, while the culture seems almost alien. You have become a permanent foreigner, since you don’t fit in overseas but home is not quite your place either.
Just as the immediate act of travel was an opportunity to enrich your life, use this post-travel period to reflect on how far you’ve come since the last time you were here. Apply yourself by meeting new friends with your improved social skills from meeting people abroad, seek out that new exotic dish you’ve fallen in love with and explore a new part of town, or explore all the ins and outs of your hometown, and maybe even the surrounding areas too! Harness this beautiful wanderlust inside of you and continue to grow as a friend, an employee, and especially an adventurer of all that the world has to offer.
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