In 2016 I spent a semester studying abroad in Australia. When I came home, I felt a little different but the change wasn’t too noticeable. It wasn’t until I spent a full year in Australia in 2018 and then solo travelled for 3 months consecutively before returning to Canada that I noticed a huge shift. I knew I was going to be sad when I got home. After all, I had just spent 15 months trying new things and meeting new people only to come home to a minimum wage job but I didn’t realize how much it would actually affect me. That’s when I discovered reverse culture shock.
What’s Reverse Culture Shock?
Reverse culture shock happens when you spend an extended period of time in another country. This could be a few months or a few years. Upon returning home, you might feel like you just don’t fit in anymore. Your own culture begins to feel foreign after living being away for a while and experiencing new things. The shock might be more intense if you go in between developing and developed countries but it can happen when there’s a shift in any cultural norms you get used to.
While you often mentally prepare yourself for a change in culture when you move aboard or plan a few months of travel, you don’t usually think about how you’ll be affected upon returning home.
7 Signs of Reverse Culture Shock:
Here are some signs you might be experiencing reverse culture shock:
1. Your expectations have changed
When you’ve been travelling for a while or living someplace new, you’re used to each day being filled with excitement. When you return home, life might seem mundane or boring and that can lead to disappointment. Instead of focusing on the negatives of coming home, try to look at it as an opportunity to seek out new and exciting experiences!
2. Everything at home seems to have changed
While you were changing and growing as a person away from home, your friends, family and home country were doing the same! You may have missed out on certain things or come back to big changes you hadn’t expected. This is normal and soon enough you’ll find it easier to integrate back into society.
3. Connecting with friends and family is challenging
Unless your friends and family have also lived abroad or spent a great amount of time travelling, you might find it challenging to connect with them. You probably picked up new hobbies or interests while you were gone that your people at home didn’t. This can make you feel alone. It might take some time to regain a strong connection with people from home but it will happen or you’ll meet new people at home that you’ll have an easier time connecting with!
4. You see your home country with new eyes
Comparison is inevitable upon coming home. You might see your home country in a more positive light or you might be drawn to the negative aspects. I definitely experienced a little of both after my working holiday in Australia. I remember going to the grocery store and asking a woman a question and getting into a great conversation with her. To my surprise, she opened up to me and was so friendly, providing me with a new recipe to try and I suddenly remembered how friendly Canadians are. I had completely forgotten how normal it was for strangers to strike up a conversation in Canada because it wasn’t something that happened in Australia. On the flip side, I struggled with the Canadian winters, the wage I made in Canada vs Australia and more.
While it might be hard to focus on the positives, try to embrace where you currently are. You can take the opportunity to explore new places in your hometown. For me, that was exploring Toronto, doing a road trip through British Columbia and planning local getaways.
5. You feel like you’re moving backwards
Travel opens you up to a new world of possibilities. You might return home and want to change careers or just change the overall direction of your life. You might find a new purpose in something you hadn’t considered before and returning home could feel like a few steps in the wrong direction. Remember that everything is temporary and that your experiences will help you create a meaningful and happy life as you continue to find your path.
6. You struggle to talk about anything BUT your experience living abroad
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t jump at any opportunity to talk about how amazing it was living in Australia. I often catch myself bringing it up in conversations. Australia was so warm, did you know they … etc. If I’m being completely honest, I still struggle with this one and it’s been over two years since I came back to Canada! 😅
Having amazing stories to share is all part of the experience but it can make you feel stuck at times. You don’t want to be that person who’s constantly living in the past but you also can’t help but bring up memories. If you’re struggling with this one, try to talk about it only when people ask. You can also keep in touch with friends you made abroad because chances are, they’ll want to talk about it just as much as you!
7. You deal with a mix of emotions on a daily basis
One day you’re laughing about a funny memory and the next day, you’re crying. Trust me, I get it. I still have trouble going through old photos because they bring back so many memories. Dealing with mixed emotions is unfortunately something you just get used to. You’re going to miss the place you just were because you lived through such an exciting time but it’s also important to live in the present moment.
Before you go …
Reverse culture shock isn’t going to last forever. You’ll find your way back to feeling normal at home, just give yourself some time. Know that you can always go back to visit (post COVID) and make new memories!
If you want to travel but you don’t really know where to begin my FREE ebook is a great place to start! It’s a guide for beginner backpackers that walks you through the “scary” parts of travel, showing you that in reality, there’s nothing to fear. Feel free to DM me on Instagram or ask any questions you have on my TikTok!
See you next week.