Reverse Culture Shock: To the Returnees.
Last week we discussed what Reverse Culture Shock is and some of the symptoms. This week we will be looking at some of the ways RCS affects the returnee and what to do in the case of reserve culture shock. The emotions of culture shock can be confusing to both the returnee and the loved ones surrounding him or her. It is our hope to at least be a guide of sorts as you navigate through this season of life.
What to do in the case of Reverse Culture Shock?
I want to start with a caveat: I am not a professional counselor. However, I have been through Reverse Culture Shock and I have asked many others who have been through a cultural transition as well. The suggestions I give are based on experiences and it is my hope that they can be a help to you and your family. That being said, let’s dive into what to do in the case of Reverse Culture shock.
Below are three things you should know as a returnee. After speaking with many people about their RCS and advice, the over-arching answers I received are:
“Give yourself grace.” You are going through a big transition and everything is not going to be the same. When I got back, the first place I visited was my favorite coffee shop. To my dismay, it no longer felt like a second home like it had before. Most of the people were new and I was just a stranger to them. I still loved the coffee, but the atmosphere just felt different. Make sure to give yourself grace and be patient. Relearning your home culture will take time; relearning to drive will take time; kindling those friendships again will take time. It’s important that you do not overload yourself with expectations. I jumped right back into school and took four classes, got right back into student ministry and immediately got a job. I think I expected way too much of myself and it didn’t help one bit. I thought maybe keeping myself busy would help me get through it. I’m on the other side of things now and I realize that it sure did not help. It’s okay to take it easy for a little bit so that you have time to process and work through those emotions you will be feeling.
Frustration is normal, but do not let it seep into your spirit and produce a critical attitude towards your home culture or your loved ones. Often times we get back home and realize the extreme excess in which many Americans live. To some who lived in third-world countries, it can be appalling. I’ve also spoken to people who have become annoyed with small talk because it seems so meaningless. Frustration will happen, both with yourself and others. It’s so easy to let it just get into you and change your outlook on life. A critical spirit will steal your joy and affect your relationships with others and no one wants that.
People have changed and you have changed. As time goes on, people will be different. You will be different too, and the changes in yourself and others will be magnified when you get back home. Many of the people I was friends with before I left are no longer close friends. Of course if we see each other we will be nice and chat, but it isn’t the same. They found new friends or are now in a different season of life, just as I am now in a different season of life. In many cases, people will ask how your “trip” was and then about three minutes later they change the subject to something else. As a returnee you wonder if they even care at all, but the friend probably just doesn’t know how to relate. They care, but don’t know how to show it.
When I got back from Hungary, I had been gone nearly a year. It was Christmas time and friends and family were busy with preparing things for the holiday. There were Christmas parties and get togethers. The day I landed in America I tried driving so I could get myself to a Christmas party the next day. I was a little rusty with the whole gas pedal and break pedal thing. The first ride was a little bumpy (sorry dad). Christmas Eve came finally and last minute runs to the store had to happen. My first time back in an American grocery store was on Christmas Eve, by myself, at Harris Teeter. I was a little freaked out and overwhelmed. I couldn’t figure out where to weigh the fruit and bag the bread, so I frantically looked around the produce section only to realize I didn’t need to do either. I could hear little kids talking back to their moms and people at the meat counter getting frustrated with the butchers. Everyone seemed grouchy and stressed with none realizing that Christmas was supposed to be a joyous time. I was a little confused. Thankfully I made it out alive and brought the items back home just in time for them to be cooked. The amount of people at our house was slightly overwhelming so I tried to curl up in my room as much as possible.
I say all of this to tell you that you aren’t alone in feeling overwhelmed by things that wouldn’t normally overwhelm you. I can gladly tell you that now a year and a half after my return I am no longer freaked out by Harris Teeter or the produce section! It also didn’t take a year to get to that point, so don’t worry. Even though sometimes it doesn’t feel like you will get passed Reverse Culture Shock, you will. Looking back on the nine months or so after I returned, I literally feel like a completely different person. It almost felt like there was a block in my brain preventing me from thinking straight. Thankfully I can look back now and see how the Lord was faithful to me even in that time of confusion.
Be patient with yourself as you get reacquainted with life in your town and learn how to do simple things. There was one time I was buying a little something at a store and the fella told me I owed about $1.81. For whatever reason I handed him $.51 and thought it was enough. He just kinda starred. I finally realized that I gave the wrong amount and got him to help me count out the right amount of money. Talk about embarrassing! Humility is something that you will need as you readjust. Pride won’t do you any good, I can tell you that right now!
Lastly, I want to encourage you to lean on community even if doing so is scary and out of your comfort zone. As humans, we were made for community. It’s our deepest desire to be fully known and loved. Thankfully it’s God who can truly accomplish that, and has accomplished that. But he has given us the church to be our earthly community. Each member of the body is to work together in unity. If the big toe stops working, we’re in trouble. Even if it seems easier to just sit in your bed and binge-watch Netflix, don’t. Go hang out with your small group, friends, or family and dive in. Get to know them and allow them to get to know you. As someone who didn’t do this well at all, I can tell you that it is better to make friends than isolate yourself. I isolated myself from friends and family because I convinced myself that they didn’t care. Even if there is only one other person you really click with, get to know that person. The season of Reverse Culture Shock is never good to navigate alone, so be bold like you were in that other culture, and be vulnerable with people. Get to know them, or continue building the friendships you had before leaving the country!
Things will turn out better than we think. Fully rely on God to pull you through and allow this season to grow your dependence and faith in Christ. He got you through living in your host culture, so he isn’t going to abandon you now.
Please comment and tell us your story of Reverse Culture Shock. What are some things that helped you get through it, or who has helped you the most? Please share this post with your friends and family so they can begin to understand the affects of reverse culture shock better.