Reverse Culture Shock

10 minute read

Moving home can be tough – many who return from international volunteering feel different and out of touch with where they’re from. This is called reverse culture shock. In this article you can learn what it is is, what to expect, and coping mechanisms.

Just like setting off on an adventure, returning from it has psychological phases that can be surprising. Most people don’t see it coming, after all, you’re returning to where you are from, but the growth you’ve experienced may cause you to view the place differently.

Like culture shock, reverse culture shock has numerous stages. Firstly, you may be excited to return home, to seeing friends, family, wearing the rest of your wardrobe, and eating all the food you’ve been missing.

This initial euphoria ultimately wears off. That is when you can find yourself feeling out of place in your own culture, lost at home. This is the experience of reverse culture shock. It can be rough.

BUT there’s good news! Although it may take some time, you will begin to adjust towards feeling comfortable with where you are, and indeed, who you are.


How reverse culture shock happens

Reverse culture shock happens when returning to a place that someone expects to be home, but it no longer feels that way. It is a subtle feeling, and therefore, more difficult to manage than outbound shock as it is unexpected and unanticipated.

International volunteers learn over their time to behave and think like the locals in the country they’re in, they adjust to their surroundings. Many who return home are shocked by the realization that they have in fact changed substantially. They usually find this when they encounter their home culture. Both they and their home culture have changed, and this is often the first time they reflect on the changes.


What is reverse culture shock?

After being away for some time, international volunteers become less familiar with their home stomping grounds. They return with a foggy perception of their ‘home’. It’s like being in a setting that’s familiar yet unreal. Like you are wearing contact lenses in the wrong eyes, everything looks almost right.

Simply put, being an international volunteer is such a deep experience it brings about great professional and personal changes. You view old norms and values from your home country with a fresh perspective.

Also, international volunteers can feel frustrated or confused when their close friends and family for behaving in ways that they no longer associate with. Or not showing enough interest in the adventure, after all, you’ve been to exotic new places and have wonderful tales to tell, don’t they want to listen?


Top challenges of returning home

  • Boredom
  • You can’t explain
  • Uninterested friends and family
  • Relationships have changed
  • People misunderstand you
  • Feeling alienated
  • Inability to apply new knowledge and skills
  • Feeling lost


How to deal with reverse shock

Talk with others and share you experience.

You may feel like no one wants to listen, but there will be close ones who will support you with open ears and honest interest.

Start a blog, contact friends you made as an expat, or write articles. Try to see if there’s a community from the country that you moved from and meet them in a social setting. Find new ways to incorporate your growth, interests and stories with people who are open to it.

Maintain your style and stay international! Home may feel different, people (including yourself) might have changed, but this doesn’t mean you have to revert to who you were before you left to fit in. Maintain your lifestyle, from the food you ate abroad to the nature of your evolving personality. If you found a passion while on placement, then keep it up!

Remember that being flexible and expecting the unexpected helped you get through the difficult times abroad. The same attitude can help you back home. Reverse culture shock is a transition, and an important learning experience. Use this time to rebuild relationships, interests, and your new worldly self.

The New Ventures Worldwide team is here to support you.