Reverse Culture Shock
That’s it, you’re home. Your trip is well and truly over and you’re left wondering if it ever really happened. You’ve survived those bouts of homesickness and have been counting down the days to see your friends and family, excited at being reunited.
But now you’re back, and the home warming wasn’t exactly what you expected, your friends don’t share your same enthusiasm and your family barely blinked through your slide show. Everything feels a bit too different, yet it’s all still the same.
Your home town may no longer feel like home. There’s no interaction with other cultures, no passing relationships with travellers. Everyday tasks can seem so mundane and boring. Friends and family are still the same and you may even wonder how you ever managed to live there before as you realise just how much you’ve changed. You may be feeling totally lost, confused and even feel a bit out of touch.
Well first thing’s first. What you’re feeling is completely normal and it actually has a name – reverse culture shock.
And it’s scientific too…
Remember those sights and sounds when you first arrive in a new country? They cause an overload of stimulation to your brain so that excitement you feel when you travel is actually your neurons firing on all cylinders at the amount of new sensations it is taking in.
It is scientifically proven that when you return home the euphoria that you felt wears off as your brain is working less. There’s no need for it to soak in your environment or a new language because it’s already been learned and it’s all so familiar to your brain. You already know the culture so your brain doesn’t have to learn new material and that’s where the depression can sink in.
But reverse culture shock comes in stages, and the good news is that this initial stage, is the worse one you’re going to face.
So what can you do to get over the post travel blues?
Get those neurons firing again and recapture some excitement. As much as it’s nice to reconnect with your friends and family, you may feel like you need something more. Keeping your brain active and finding new ways of doing things such as meeting new people and learning new skills will help you to ease back into your life at home, and also keep you from boredom when you do it.
Take the things that you really loved about travelling – the emotions or activity and apply it to home. Maybe you discovered that you loved hiking so get out into the countryside and explore or you may have a new passion for South Korean soap operas. Keep part of your trip alive by introducing these into your new routine.
Find other travellers
You’ve just spent the last how many weeks or months feeling like part of a big travelling community now you feel alone. Rest assured that you’re not the only one feeling like this so find communities of other travellers who have just returned too. Help other new travellers by becoming a travel helper within travel forums to pass on your tips to others, or join Couchsurfing as a host to meet other travellers as they pass through your door.
Be a tourist
You’ve spent months being one so there’s no reason to stop being one just because you’re at home. Chances are, you’ve never really looked at your home town or city through a traveller's eyes so it’s a good time to start. Start with all the free things to do. Remember those free walking tours you used to love so much? You could even start your own!
Recapture your travel memories
Do something constructive with your travel photos: make a scrap book or a Blurb book which processes your photos as a keep sake of your trip. Start a Facebook group with the group of Australians that you met and share your pictures and stories or just listen to songs that you associate with your trip to get the feelings back again.
Remember those hours you spent learning Spanish?
Well why not keep up your language skills by meeting others who speak Spanish too. Look for language meetings in your home town or a conversation exchange online. You could even start learning a brand new language for your new trip.
Do something to help someone
Volunteer in your local homeless shelter or look at other ways that you can devote all your new free time. Helping others makes you feel good about yourself and puts your worries into perspective too.
Sign up to a climbing group, go hiking or even dry skiing. Exercising is one of the best things you can do to get the endorphins going again and burn any excess weight that you may be carrying from too many empanadas. Take time out to walk in nature, get on your bike or download an exercise app or DVD that interests you and get moving.
Practice a positive mental attitude
Think of everything you are grateful for in your life for at least five minutes each day. Say thank you for all the people you met, all those memories you had and all the wonderful places you went. Take up meditation and listen to Youtube videos to help you process everything and feel calmer about being back.
Unless you spent most of your time cooking in hostel kitchens you’re probably used to going out to dinner and sampling the local cuisine. Although there may not be a traditional Greek restaurant in your local vicinity, there will be others you can try. Find your local Thai, Italian, or Korean restaurant and go out to dinner to get those taste buds tingling again. You could even join a Thai cookery class or treat your friends and family to a new dish from the country you’ve just been to.
There are lots of ways to help you adjust. You just need to get back out there and do things that make you tick and want to have fun. Even just hanging out at a backpackers bar, going to your local quiz night or people watching in a coffee shop will help. If you really don’t want to face anyone though, try watching documentaries on the countries you travelled through or join a dating site to meet new people.
How you would have changed
Although it may not seem it right now, there are some benefits to coming back home.
Remember the ease of everything?
You’re back with people who know and love you more than anyone, you’re back in your own bed, in the own driving seat of your own car and you don’t need to translate any words in your mind before you open your mouth to speak your native language. But the main benefit of being back is realising how much you’ve changed.
Your outlook on life will be so different as you’ve absorbed different cultures and learned about the countries you have travelled to. You’ll begin to see things in a different light and not sweat about the small stuff. You won’t understand why everyone is so uptight when your train gets delayed by five minutes, after you’ve experienced buses breaking down for hours.
You’ll be less stressed and still have the ability to sit and people watch for hours with the same coffee whilst wondering why others are racing around at top speed and in a constant hurry.
But as much as you have changed, others around you haven’t and friends and family may not be able to understand this new you and want to hold onto the old one. They may think that this is just a phase you are going through; and this could make you feel even more alienated that you already do.
It’s hard when you feel you have changed and everyone else has remained the same so take some time alone to adapt to the new you. No one else would have known exactly what you’ve just experienced so give yourself a huge pat on the back as you have just survived a trip travelling completely solo and you’ve realised just how rewarding and empowering it can be. Plus change is a good thing.
Who knows… you may even qualify for a tax rebate if you’ve been out of the country for a few months!
Things to watch out for
You may still be buzzing from your trip but there are things that you need to watch out for now you’re back:
• Preaching too much to others about how great travel is and that they should leave their job and just get on the next plane and do it. Not everyone shares the same travel vision.
• Wanting to sell everything that you own to go and live in a tent permanently. Making decisions to get rid of everything when you get back may seem like a good idea (after all you have survived with a small backpack for the last six months), but you may need that hair dryer or your jacket when winter comes so don’t be too hasty yet. But, if you now have no need for the car and prefer to bike instead, just sell it and use the money to fund your next trip.
• Your pallet would have changed from all the exotic foods you have tried. You may have the desire to throw hot sauce over everything or need more spice in your curry. The Tex Mex in your own country may not resemble anything you’ve been used to in Mexico and trying to find an empanada may seem literally impossible (unless you’re from Cornwall).
• Having too much time to yourself. You probably spent your days with other travellers living in close proximity with people whom you connected with and had constant interaction. But not working Monday to Friday back home is not the norm and just because you have so much free time doesn’t mean that your friends do. They have their own routines so don’t expect them to be able to take a day off just because you’re at a loose end. Don’t rely on your friends to fill your time.
• Not feeling as independent as you did while you were on the road. You may have to rely on family or friends to put you up or give you lifts to places. Just remember that this is just temporary and you’ll soon be back on your feet when you have a job and a place to live again.
It will get better…
Creating a life for yourself back home isn’t easy. It’s all about balance. You may feel that you’ll never going to adjust to life back home; that you’ve been on the road for too long to just slip back into a normal reality. But these feelings will get better over time. The last stage of reverse culture shock is gradually adjusting to life back at home and soon your new normal routine will become more comfortable.
The human mind is more adaptable than you think. But if being back at home really isn’t for you anymore, the start looking for a job, start a saving plan and get planning for your next trip, no matter how big or small…
Join our Girls about the Globe Facebook community to share your travel stories, and give help and advice to others going to the same countries that you’ve just visited.
The Re-entry Roadmap: Find Your Best Next Step After Living Abroad – a brilliant workbook which helps guide you through this challenging transition.
Girls about the Globe Facebook group – Join our solo female community for support.
Blurb book – Create your own book of travel memories.
Couchsurfing – Host travellers on your couch.
Meetup.Com – Meet up with new people in your area and join a new activity
My Language Exchange – Practice and learn languages.
Samaritans – Someone to talk to if you’ve been feeling down for a while.
Volunteering England – Find volunteering placements in the UK when you come home.