How to prepare for reverse culture shock

You’re planning your return from an extended vacation. Or, you’re coming back to live in an old, familiar place after a long stint working abroad. Either way, you’ll need to prepare mentally for your return home.

Although you may have grown up in this old familiar place, returning home can be a real jolt to the system. After all, you’ve grown accustomed to the lifestyle, attitudes, and perspective of some new culture. Now, this new culture is in your blood; you’re a new person now. Remember how different the new culture felt when you first arrived — the “culture shock” you experienced? Believe it or not, returning to your old stomping grounds can be just as rattling. This is known as “reverse culture shock.”

For weeks — maybe months! — you’ll be experiencing your home base with fresh perspective; seeing old friends who may not understand what you’ve seen and done; and navigating a (potentially) unfamiliar culture of consumerism. It can be stressful. Here are some tips for making the adjustment and learning to love your new, old home again.

Don’t expect your friends and family to want all the delicious details of your trip.
More often than not, they’ll ask, “Did you have a good time?” or “Was it what you’d hoped it would be?”. They’ll smile and nod and be happy to hear you reply, “Yes!” And … that’s it. No more.

So don’t plan the two-hour slide show, and make peace with the fact that even your closest friends and family may just not care about the time you found yourself on horseback roping cattle with Mexican cowboys or schmoozing on the Jungfrau ski slopes with Swiss business clients. You may have had a life-changing experience abroad, but back home, people were living their lives and enduring the same ol’ same ol’ you got to escape. So don’t rub it in. (To be fair, it may not be that they don’t care. It may be that, at home in their normal lives, they just can’t understand the massive, life-changing experience you enjoyed.)

Find some friends who can share your new, wider world perspective.
Seek out expats living in your area, or reach out to others who have also spent significant time in other cultures. There’s a good chance those folks will want to hear your stories — and they might even agree to look at your photos.

Get on Facebook.
Find your friends from abroad. Seeing photos and daily updates of friends you’ve left behind will help you feel connected to the life you left behind.

Get off Facebook.
However, resist the urge to simply hang on the Internet. Make plans that involve face-to-face contact, actual food, and real experiences. The best way to re-kindle the flame for the culture you left behind is to embrace it. Give it a hug. So make a dinner reservation, buy a movie ticket, and leave the house.

Make shopping lists.
Rediscovering a developed nation’s shopping experience can leave a person breathless. Nowhere in the world are there as many choices, stores, and products. After buying at local boutiques, green grocers, butchers, and bakeries, a developed nation’s mega-retailer or grocery store may feel overwhelming. The Halloween costumes for cats may be captivating, but you’ll never get out of there if you don’t stay focused and buy what you came for.

Keep up your language skills.

Get the foreign language channels on your cable service and watch Sponge Bob in Spanish. Don’t select English when you watch your DVDs. Call friends, speak to shopkeepers, read foreign magazines. Unless you make the effort to use your language skills, you’ll lose them. And down the road, you’ll feel really bad about that.

Incorporate foreign customs into your lifestyle.
Since most Western holidays have become consumer-driven events, many holiday traditions of foreign cultures can feel like a breath of fresh air.

Instead of spending an arm and a leg on artificial amputated arms and legs for Halloween, why not create a “Day of the Dead Altar” with fruits and flowers, and photos of relatives who’ve passed on? Alternatively, make a Dragon head costume and have dim sum for New Year’s Eve.

Get involved with a cause.
Westerners can be among the most generous and proactive members of the social and environmental activism movements. There’s no better way to feel good about your country than to be a part of an effort that makes the world a better place — for animals or for human beings, even for rivers, mountains, and forests.

Make plans to visit the country you left behind.
Investigate house swap websites or invite friends to trade your apartment or house so you can more easily afford to travel. If you know you have plans for a visit, coming back home may not feel so final.

Be careful what you eat.
In the Western world, high fructose corn syrup is in soft drinks, spaghetti sauces, and even sandwich breads. It’s easy to gain a few pounds after being away for so long, unless you check labels and look for hidden calories. And, while your first stop after the airport may be McDonald’s to eat some french fries, you don’t really need to “super size it.”

If you’ve learned anything by living in a foreign country, its that you can get by eating and buying and having less. Remember how happy you were with less. Less is more.

Returning home after a long experience abroad can be jarring initially. However, with a little patience, you’ll feel comfortable in your new, old home again — and richer for having explored other cultures.