How to Deal with Reverse Culture Shock

reverse culture shock, hands representing different cultures

Your semester abroad has ended and you’ve packed all your belongings. You’ve gotten on the plane and have arrived home safely. But now, home feels like a foreign country; the values, customs, and culture that you were so familiar with have now become unfamiliar to you. If you feel this way, you could be experiencing reverse culture shock.

Reverse culture shock is the emotional and psychological distress suffered by some people when they return home after a number of years overseas. While this definition says a number of years, you can feel reverse culture shock after a few weeks or months abroad as well.

Why do we feel reverse culture shock? When we spend time in a foreign country, we start to acclimate to the host country’s customs. For example, in Spain, it’s not customary to tip at a restaurant. So of course, while in Spain, I didn’t tip. Coming back to the United States, I had to readjust to the US custom of tipping. While this is a relatively small example of a cultural difference I faced abroad, it goes to show that even the smallest differences can cause a small shock.

The amount of communication with friends and families back home also contributes to the degree of culture shock. The more communication you have, the less of a shock when coming home. This is mainly because you’re not fully immersed in the culture and customs of the host country if you’re chatting with your friends and family all the time.

There is a correlation between the length of the time abroad and the impact of the shock–the longer your time spent abroad, the greater the culture shock when coming home. Also, the bigger the difference in culture, the larger the shock.

reverse culture shock

There are four stages of reverse culture shock.

  • The first stage is disengagement, where you begin to make preparations to come home and begin feeling the coming home blues.
  • The second stage is the initial euphoria of coming home, where you’re excited about seeing family and friends and getting back home.
  • The third stage is irritability and hostility, and like the name implies, you can get irritated, frustrated, and critical of your home culture and could even feel like a stranger in your own country.
  • Finally, stage four is readjustment and adaptation, where you finally begin to readjust, and even implement your new ideals and values you adopted abroad, into your life.

If you’re feeling the effects of reverse culture shock, there are a couple ways you can deal with it. Try reaching out to other people who have studied abroad in your country and swap stories. Cook a dish from that country to feel like you’re back there. Blog about your experience and help others get ready for an adventure where you had yours, or read other people’s blogs and articles on how they coped with coming back. Reach out and talk to people about how you’re feeling.

One of the best ways to cope with reverse culture shock is to get out and find a new opportunity to explore! Make new memories and take new trips.


Also published on Medium.