Reflections on Reverse Culture Shock
Home? What is home anymore? It was but a vacant dream not long ago. A distant, foreign land that I once knew.
I walked through those halls and down those stairs and saw those people many times. But in my daydreams whilst sitting on buses and staring out windows. And now. It’s here. It’s real. And those adventures, in those places, are now the far off, vacant land.
And home is. Well…home. I don’t know what home is anymore. I would say the classic “home is where the heart is” but my heart is split far and wide across this earth and I…where do I fit in? Reverse culture shock has hit me.
Those adventures in far off places now start to fade quicker than you would ever have thought. And the place you knew starts to become the norm again. The sights and smells and even the people are the same. It’s too much the same. Now that I know just a fraction of what is out there, in this big wide world. This place feels ever so small. Like one sentence of a book that’s begging to be read.
Before writing this, I read a few articles about reverse culture shock to try to prepare myself and they always talk about the ‘stages of culture shock‘. Well…that feels like an accurate way to depict the experience. So here are a few of the stages I went through.
The 5 stages:
1. Excitement (I’m coming home!)
You start packing your bags in Peru (or wherever you may be) and can’t help the rush of excitement surging through you. To see the people you love and tell them that you ran up a volcano in Southern Peru and spent 3 days in the Amazon rainforest.
You can’t wait to go to that beach you’ve always loved and to visit that cafe with great coffee around the corner and see the bedroom you knew since you were a child. Getting on the plane, you beam with a joyous smile and a heart full of adventure not knowing that step two of reverse culture shock will soon begin.
Getting off of that plane, everyone now speaks a language you know all too well. You can understand everything with ease, even people sitting 10-meters away. It’s strange, like an alien world.
You notice that people act differently and have different social norms which can make you feel a little sceptical and judgemental of your own culture because you are not used to that style of life.
I came home from Peru after 1 year and coming back to Australia I noticed that people were friendly and willing to help you out but they were not genuinely interested in talking to you whereas in Peru almost everyone wanted to have a chat just for the sake of it (probably helps that I’m a gringo too).
Seeing your family and friends is a strange experience. Everyone is basically doing the same thing. There’s nothing wrong with that, but you may experience difficulty trying to relate, as your life has been very different to everyone around you now and you think in a completely different way.
Tip: Try not to assume that everyone will be interested in hearing about your travels and you can’t expect them to understand what it’s like. Especially for people who have never travelled. They might ask, but don’t be surprised if they shrug it off and try not to take it personally.
3. Sadness and Disengagement
With the best of your stories told, pictures shown, introductory hugs and nostalgic visits over, you begin to get bored with the place you knew so well. Everything is too ‘samey’. It’s easy to feel disconnected from people even though you want to connect with them. You may have lost friends or lost touch with family members. You long to return to what now feels a little more like home and may have feelings of loneliness..
For me, this period lasted most of my stay and I think that’s because my girlfriend lives in Peru and I have a lot of close friends there, so I missed them a lot plus the fact that I was only in Australia for 4 weeks visiting for Christmas. I didn’t get enough time to process it all or start to feel settled.
Tip: Try not to be overly proud of the adventures and things you’ve seen while travelling. Don’t be that guy who takes himself too seriously and always talks about that time he was hiking through the Himalayas or trekking through the Amazon jungle. Just because people live and think differently doesn’t mean they’re lesser. Don’t forget that.
You think about your travels constantly and start to plan new ones. You get itchy feet again like how you felt before you left in the first place. This can be a good thing as long as your not settling back down in your home country permanently because you get those fresh feelings of wonder and curiosity which made you travel in the first place.
Depending on your situation, you start to embrace your original home with a newfound perspective. Things you’ve learnt and behaviours you’ve picked up, change you as a person and therefore change the way you see the world including your home country. You may have criticisms about your own culture but you also see the positive sides to it that you may not have found anywhere else in your travels.
For example; when I first arrived in Australia I thought people were cold and individualistic but now I see how people in Australia are very honest and down-to-earth which are assets I find extremely admirable.
Like I mentioned earlier, I only arrived home for 4 weeks before going back to Peru, so for me, I had a few of these moments of acceptance but it didn’t feel like a full sort of acceptance because I knew I was going back soon. So perhaps there are more stages after this that you may experience.
Wrapping it Up
The experience can almost be stranger than when you first set off to travel. You aren’t the same person who stepped on that plane a year ago. You have changed. And seeing the place you grew up in, gives contrast to just how much you have grown.
You see the world as a whole, full of culture, adventure and interesting people. The world to you is not that small town you grew up in, but a book waiting to be read, and now you know that you can make any place feel like home. You are boundless.
The adventures you had and will continue to have, shape your very being. They can mould you into a better version of yourself and give you the ability and perspective to accomplish great things and be more humble about your short existence on this planet.
But even if you do return home for good. Adventures never end. That curious, wondrous boy who wanted to see the world and dreamed of climbing mountains and exploring the remote areas of our world, always lives inside of you. As long as you don’t forget that he’s there.
“All men have stars, but they are not the same things for different people. For some, who are travellers, the stars are guides. For others, they are no more than little lights in the sky. For others, who are scholars, they are problems… But all these stars are silent. You-You alone will have stars as no one else has them.”– From the book “The Little Prince”, written by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry