Reverse Culture Shock: Dealing With It Without Spreading It

You’ve just returned from a life-changing adventure around the world, where every day brought you something new and exciting to experience. You can’t believe how much you’ve accomplished in such a short period of time, yet the second you walk through the door to your home, it feels like you never left, as everything looks the same.

And that feeling is only enhanced when you meet up with family and friends, as it may seem as if nothing has really changed with them either. But you have changed, and you’re not sure what to make of the roller coaster of emotions you’re feeling. You, my friend, are experiencing reverse culture shock.

You’ll be happy to know that you’re not alone. Just about every traveler experiences it in some variation (including our very own Sherry Ott). And although it’s not contagious, you can spread it to non-travelers. Here are some tips on how to deal with Reverse Culture Shock without spreading your anxiety, and even depression, to those around you.

Coming home can be a selfish act sometimes. You assume everyone wants to hear about your trip and all the exciting things you encountered. But don’t forget that they were living a life as well – make it a two-way conversation. Don’t make your friends or family members feel as if their lives are any less relevant because they didn’t travel. Remember, you used to live your life in a similar way before traveling.

One way to make this transition easier is to stay up on what they were doing while traveling. You might have kept a travel blog so that they could follow along on your every step. Yet even if they do have a personal blog, keep the dialogue open while on the road. Social networks especially make this easier than ever.

When someone asks you the general question “How was your trip?”, you would love to get into every detail – from the tree-climbing goats you searched out in Morocco to the elephants you rode in Thailand. But for the most part, you’ll find that most people ask the same few questions.

Sherry Ott found that preparing some quick answers to the questions people wanted to hear was very helpful. She even created a Reflection By Numbers list so that should could quickly reference some fun facts, like how many bodies of water she dipped her toes in (10), the number of overnight trains she took (10), and the number of photos she had taken after editing (11,868).

And be aware that others might be jealous of you. In her post on Vagabondish, “How to Survive Reverse Culture Shock”, Amanda Kendle warns:

Be careful not to drop your travel tales into too many conversations. After traveling pretty widely, I know I’m guilty of this at times, and there is a clear reaction from some people if I begin a story with “When I was on the Trans-Siberian …”, which seems like one of jealousy. Not everybody has the same opportunity as you to travel abroad, but they might want to – so be sensitive about who you discuss your experiences with.

Many travelers can get depressed after returning home from around-the-world travels, finding life at home less than stimulating. Matthew Kepnes put it best in his post, “The Joy of Coming Home”:

Back home, boredom can happen pretty fast if you don’t keep yourself busy. On the road you move around everyday but there is a certain static-ness that comes with being back home. Even if you keep yourself busy, returning home can be a little underwhelming sometimes.

It’s easy to start complaining to friends and family about how boring home is, but remember, they may feel as if you are calling them boring as well. And your cultural adventures don’t have to end as soon as the plane touches down on the tarmac. Seek out restaurants, events, museums and other activities in your area that can make you feel as if you are still abroad. And better yet, invite some of your friends or family along so they can get a taste of what you experienced.

David Lee has some great suggestions in his post on “How to Survive Reverse Culture Shock”:

Seek Out Activities Inspired From Abroad – Didn’t get a chance to join an ashram in India? Start taking yoga classes when you get home. Become addicted to salsa in Latin America? Do a web search for bars in your area offering salsa nights. The list is endless, from sports to spirituality, cooking to kayaking, chances are good you’ve picked up a few new interests to pursue.

David even found his own way of coping:

More than missing the experience of traveling, I missed the friends that I had made the last 6 months in Medellin. They were a mix of Colombians, Europeans, Canadians, Australians, and fellow Americans. I really enjoy the diversity of perspectives, and accents, that come with meeting people abroad. To ease the transition, my home away from home has become a popular Salsa club where there is always a heavy Latino presence, and the American women I meet have often traveled to South America.

So keep in mind that adjusting to life back home will take some time. As long as you are aware of the signs of reverse culture shock, the better prepared you will be to deal with it. And more importantly, you can prevent the spread of it to those around you.

To read more about re-entry after a big trip, check out the following artilces:

Other comments

11 Comments on "Reverse Culture Shock: Dealing With It Without Spreading It"

  1. Dave on Mon, 28th Sep 2009 7:34 pm 

    “BE CAREFUL OF SHARING TOO MUCH INFORMATION TOO FAST” I was definitely guilty of that, though after 2 months home, I’m talking less about my travels and focusing those stories and that energy into writing for a much broader online audience.

    Since my posts show up on Facebook, friends from home can read about them if interested, or not. 🙂

  2. Michaela Potter on Mon, 28th Sep 2009 7:54 pm 

    Thanks for the additional tip David! FB and blogs are great for keeping in touch with friends and family while you are traveling, and also a great way of sharing your stories afterwards!

  3. Tweets that mention Dealing With Reverse Culture Shock Without Spreading It | Briefcase to Backpack - Travel Advice for Career Breaks or Sabbaticals -- on Tue, 29th Sep 2009 10:07 am 

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Michaela Potter. Michaela Potter said: RT @CareerBreakHQs: Is Reverse Culture Shock contagious? Prevent spreading it to your loved ones! #travel #lp […]

  4. Stephanie on Tue, 29th Sep 2009 3:55 pm 

    It can be really frustrating coming home, because although you feel like you’ve changed radically, everything else is pretty much the same. Best to slowly reconnect with old haunts and old friends at a pace that keeps you comfortable.

  5. Sherry Ott on Thu, 1st Oct 2009 10:39 am 

    Stephanie – totally agree with you…go slow. I think I just sat in my apartment not moving for the first few days back as I was a bit afraid to go outside my doors and enter my old world! I’m coming back for a second time now and it will be interesting to see how my reverse culture shock appears my second time around!

  6. Shannon OD on Thu, 1st Oct 2009 11:51 am 

    I am going to take all of this into consideration – I’ve been back a week now and it’s all just a little overwhelming still…and surreal. I think the tip about oversharing stories and travel tales and instead listening to their lives will be key in me not making an ass out of myself! 🙂

  7. Michaela Potter on Thu, 1st Oct 2009 12:33 pm 

    Welcome back Shannon! Being back just a week, I bet you still feel as if you haven’t been away for the past year. That can be a strange feeling as well. You’ll find that you’re stories will come out naturally and you will be reliving them for many years to come. At least you know you’ll never be at loss for conversation!

    Can’t wait to hear how your transition to being back home goes and hopefully you can share more with our readers!

  8. NYer in NZ on Sat, 3rd Oct 2009 6:42 pm 

    One of the best tools I discovered is applying your traveler’s attitude to your home. On days of from work, pretend you just arrived in your city and decide what you would want to see first. Visit new neighborhoods, try new restaurants and get to know your own hometown with the broader lenses of your freshly opened eyes.

  9. Jamison on Wed, 19th Jan 2011 6:23 pm 

    I just returned from 6 months of being on the road and I struggle with speaking to friends about my trip. I don’t want to bore them then at the same time this is what I’ve been doing for the last few months of my life.
    I’m working to stay busy and find other people who have had the same experience to help with easing back in the country.

  10. Shannon in GA on Sun, 24th Apr 2011 6:52 pm 

    Hey Jamison (and others, but you and I seem to be the most recent ones here). I know exactly what you’re going through. I spent three years in Mexico, and about one and a half back in the U.S., and I’m really having difficulty adjusting to “life as normal.” Do you know of any yahoo or facegroup groups that have support for people like us?

  11. Jamison on Mon, 25th Apr 2011 1:38 pm 

    I’ve been fortunate enough to land a gig working in a field that’s interested me for a few years. One way I share my experiences is by talking to kids at schools and community centers as a volunteer. Its a good way to tell your stories and impact some ones life in a meaningful way. So volunteer when you can or offer to speak about what its like to live abroad. I don’t know of any groups though.

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