How to deal with reverse culture shock in international assignments
Culture shock is something that as an expat moving to another country, you know to prepare for. There are countless materials out there on coping with culture shock from a mission or assignment abroad, but what about returning home afterward? This journey comes with an entirely new set of problems, often referred to as reverse culture shock. The longer that you are abroad, the more you tend to evolve as a person and conform to the culture of the assignment country. Many people return home with the expectation that it will be familiar and comforting, only to find that it doesn’t feel like home anymore. Often, expats that return home feel frustrated or out-of-place, and may not have much in common with old friends. Your new perspective on life can cause you to view the values and customs of your home country completely differently.
Thankfully, being prepared for the issues that you may face coming home can help ease your return to your old life. Although the reverse culture shock symptoms go away with time, there are some things that you can do as an expat returning home to speed up the process.
Learn to let go
You will find that you start to drift apart from some people upon your return home. After all, the entire time you were in a foreign country you were constantly changing, building character and discovering new interests. Whether you realized it or not, you have probably changed quite a bit since you left your home country and these changes come to light when you are fully immersed in your old life again. It is important to be aware of this and move on when necessary, instead of hanging on to relationships that no longer add value to your life.
Find ways to share your experiences
Gravitate towards those that care about your experience and want to hear about it. Talking it out can help you reflect on your time abroad and help the listener relate to you better through awareness of your experiences. Use this time to learn about the part of their lives that you missed out on as well. Write down your thoughts, memories, and lessons learned from your trip abroad out on paper, in a blog or a journal. Not only does this help clear your mind and transition from your days abroad to back home, but will also be around later if you ever want to reminisce on your experience.
While it may be tempting to take a break when you first return home after your long assignment, the most important thing to do is get moving. The best way to avoid reverse culture shock is not to give yourself time to dwell on the past. Instead, get out of the house and start reconnecting with old friends and family. Start exploring your hometown and rediscovering different places around the area. Create goals, experience new things, and throw yourself into your new life to move on and let go of your time abroad.
Keep your schedule
If you had a schedule while you were on assignment, try to keep it the same as much as possible when you return to your home country. The familiarity of your daily activities from when you were abroad will help mitigate culture shock. If you went to a workout class when you were in your assignment country, schedule a similar class in your home country.
Throughout the process of moving back to where you are from, try to find the silver lining in each situation. Know that you will adjust, that you will eventually begin to reconnect to the people you left behind, and that home will feel like home again.