“People that have lived overseas for a period of time tend to look disconnected when they return home.”
My friend said this phrase to me after my re-entering. I did not know it back then, but now looking back, I realised that it captured the impact that reverse culture shock could have on returnees.
As mentioned in the previous article, reverse culture shock happens because of our perception of home as changed after immersing ourselves in the new culture for a long while. The magnitude of reverse culture shock varies according to how much a person has assimilated or felt comfortable to the environment and culture of their host countries. Unlike most popular belief that re-entry shock starts after we have entered our home country, the stages of reverse culture shock emotionally and psychologically develop since earlier months when we were preparing for re-entering the home country.
While reverse culture shock might be a unique experience for each returnee, the phases of experiencing the effect of reverse culture shock seem to be consistent which can be divided into two phases: the initial honeymoon stage and the stage of reverse culture shock. The two phases together resulting in the four commonly known stages of re-entry effect as follow:
1. Leave-taking and departure
This is the earliest stage of re-entry that normally occurs since your last several months at the host country. In the strictest sense, physically, you would be considered as re-entering when you arrive at your home country; however, emotionally and psychologically, the process of re-entering might start a few months earlier. At this stage, while spending your remaining time at your host country, you are ready to say goodbye to your host country and are looking forwards to resuming your life at your old home. At this stage, you have built up a lot of excitement and anticipation towards your home country as you start to visualise what you are going to do upon your arrival and some other scenarios that might happen. You might even plan the conversation about your experiences in the host country. This stage could be an emotionally bittersweet moment since you are ready to leave, but you are also since about having to leave your overseas life.
2. The Honeymoon
This stage occurs in the first few weeks upon arrival in the home country. This is when coming home is nothing but perfect. Everyone is happy to see you and you get to do all the things that you have on your checklist before your re-entering. At this stage, everything about your home country is nothing, but perfect. You look at your home in a positive light because you need it to be and feel like home.
3. Reverse Culture shock
Just like all the good things in life, everything has to end, so does the honeymoon stage of re-entering. The honeymoon stage could last from a week to a month depending on every individual’s experiences; however, it would not end abruptly. The positive façade of readjustment will start to wear off, while people assume that you have adapted and settled down. Therefore, at this stage, when you are suffering the most from all the emotional difficulties, people around you would think that you are fine.
The reverse culture shock stage is when you start to be critical of your home country. After the illusion of a perfect home faded away, you will start to see the flaws of the place you are living in and remind you of why you were so eager to leave. You start to get judgmental and comparing your home country to the host country even on the tiniest thing like the speed of the internet.
It is also at this stage that you start to realise how much you have changed and so do the people around you. The changes that you reflect upon yourself make you feel marginalised and start having doubts about coming home. This stage is when you begin to go through the most emotional distress; you would feel overwhelmed by the experience and see that nothing is familiar to you, not the people around you, not the place, nor the living environment.
The stress of going through can be quite overwhelming that you can get depressed and start to withdraw from your friends and family. To you, the reaction is not only that you feel alienated and dislike home, but it is also because you start to resist the readjustment. You feel that you have changed so much that readjusting would mean you are returning home for good and that you have to revert to the person that you once were before your overseas life.
This stage is when you have put everything into perspective. You are finally used to your life in your home country while accepting that the experiences that you had overseas will also be a part of you.
To reach the stage of readjustment is not an easy process, as you have to go through a lot of emotional readjustment; thus, here are some tips that might help you get through the process:
1. Be very well aware of the impacts of reverse culture shock before your return. Your awareness of the possibility of the emotional distress that you will face returning home could take away the mystery of the process and help you better prepare for the possible changes that come with readjustment. It is also a good idea to start reconnecting with your friends and families before your re-entering as well as planning for the long term of resettlement.
2. Be honest about your feeling. Instead of trying to deal with the stress of readjustment by yourself, be open about how you feel to your trusted circle of people. As mentioned above, they might not know that you are going through the reverse culture shock judging after the honeymoon stage. For this reason, it is better to express your emotion instead of trying to distance yourself. Another method is to think of a stress-relieving technique that could help you through the stages of adjustment.
3. Talk about your experience. I know that the urges to share your experience can be quite strong and very constant, while people can get tired of hearing your story. Therefore, in addition to sharing your experience with your circle of people, you can also share it in professional platforms, focus groups, or write all about it.
4. For family and friends of the returnees, beware that your love ones can be suffering from reverse culture shock upon their return; therefore, it is best to provide them with all the emotional support that they need. Try to ask them to open up about their experiences of resettling and endure with them because it could help them get through the stages easier.
To find out more about reverse culture shock and its impact of a different group of people, I would like to recommend a book called “The Art of Coming Home” by Craig Storti. Finally, do not forget to share your experiences with reverse culture shock in order to take the mystery out of the transition and help others be prepared for the phenomenon.