The Woes and Wonders of Reverse Culture Shock

BlogHer Original Post

The shock itself is old news to me, but there is no denying it, even after the 10th time you've come home from abroad. There are the standard reactions to excess and waste, comparisons between East and West, angry bouts of righteousness, usually featuring variations on the ever-popular, "these people have no idea how fortunate they are." There are also supermarket shelf-shock, gas-pumping epiphanies, and the confounding sight of so many Hummers patrolling suburbia.

--The Tranquilo Traveler

It hits you both ways, coming and going. Maybe if you've just taken a short trip, the re-entry isn't so hard, but while we expect to experience culture shock on the outbound portion of our travels, we don't think it's going to get us when we get back. But watch out.

At Crossroads of the Rising sun, a recent returnee blogs about adjusting to the US after being in Japan.

So I have been home for a few days and of course, I miss Japan already. It is sad to say, but it is actually harder to adjust to living back in America than it was to adjust living in Japan. The biggest difference between the two cultures, Americans are rude. Very rude. Of course, almost every person knows this, but you do not really see how extreme it is until you leave and compare it to something else.

Copper also posted about readjusting to the US.

You know you hear about it. You’ve experienced it. But it’s supposed to GO AWAY after you get home. I’ve never really had culture shock travelling to another country - just in my own, at home, after I return. Last time the shock lasted close to a year. Days that it was difficult to get in the car and drive, days that I owned too many pairs of shoes, days that there was too much food on the table, on my plate, in my fridge, days when the music really sucked. knew what I was in for this time. I prepared myself.

But this time the culture shock was different and that fact that it still impacts me over a year later is disconcerting at the least.

Long term travelers may suffer the worst from reverse culture shock. Folks who haven't been there may have a hard time sympathizing because "Hey, you've been tripping around the world for the last 15 months! What on EARTH are you whining about!" But the re-entry shock is real, it's very real, and it can strike at any time.

I was in the grocery store the other night and decided to buy a jar of peanut butter. As I stood beneath a flood of peanut butter jars above me I… well… let’s say I had a moment. Actually I almost teared up. There was crunchy, there was smooth, there was low cal, there were small sizes, large sizes, Jiffy versus Squirrel versus Kraft. I didn’t know what I wanted, I didn’t know if I even cared what kind I wanted. All I knew was that I was overwhelmed.

In Uganda there is one type of peanut butter. And it is bad.

--Through the Looking Glass

There's hope. Filipina Soul post both the symptoms and the cure on Culture shock defined.

The term describes the anxiety produced when a person moves to a completely new environment. Dr. Carmen Guanipa of San Diego State University explains it as “the lack of direction, the feeling of not knowing what to do or how to do things in a new environment, and not knowing what is appropriate or inappropriate.”

After I returned from India, it took years for me to be able to go to Costco without falling apart. I'm a much calmer person now, and typically, the only things that make me crazy on reentry are the huge cars and television advertising. (Though once, in recent memory, I fell into hysterical laughter in front of the dental floss. )

My advice? Try to think of reverse culture shock as a gift - a chance for the scales to drop from your eyes, no matter how briefly. This isn't an easy task, especially when you're weeping in the shampoo aisle. Try to breathe and remember to use your travelers eyes.

Reverse culture shock is the chance to make your home a new place again.

Pam blogs about travel and other adventures at Nerd's Eye View.


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