Dealing with Reverse Culture Shock

Traveling is eye-opening and rewarding. It changes you on a fundamental level by making your world and your existence in that world larger and more varied. When you are abroad you still feel connected to home in a way, because everyone you meet sees you as an extension of your home. Everything is new and interesting, and slowly you will reach out and sink roots into the new place, letting it become a part of you. Then one day you will return to your first home and the strangeness will hit you like a brick in the face. No one back at home is aware, or is even capable of understanding, that you are more than you were before. Here are some of the problems you’ll run into and how you can try to come to terms.

You Will Have a “Secret” Life

You speak a new language, have a new set of friends, memorized the grid of a new town, and know which bakery has the good rolls in a place thousands of miles away. Your old friends at home don’t understand or care about your new language, can’t talk to your new friends, and won’t understand the funny stories about those friends because they have no context. They haven’t had the good rolls or the bad ones, and couldn’t care less about what they tasted like. As a result, when you try to tell them about these things, they will get glassy eyed and wait for you to finish. There is an entire phase of your life, a pretty important one at that, that you can never share with them. As far as they are concerned it never happened. The only way to deal with this is to let it be. Pushing the issue will make you feel isolated, while other will see you as arrogant and aloof. People can’t care about things that they can’t identify with, and until they do something similar they won’t know what you’re talking about. Find other people who have lived abroad and make friends with them to help you cope.

You’ll Scramble Your Native Language

When you try to speak in a new language you at first have to work hard not to apply the grammar rules from your first language to the new one. This means you’re actively fighting with your own brain about how to organize your thoughts into speech. By the time you develop enough of a separate mental “language production engine” for your new language you’ve messed up your old one pretty significantly. You might randomly second guess yourself as you’re talking and find yourself stopped in the middle of a sentence, unable to remember a word or whole phrases. Simply knowing that this is normal is enough to ease most of the stress this can cause. Don’t worry about it; it will get better after a few weeks or months. You should keep speaking your new language whenever possible while you do this to help prevent having the same thing happen the other way around while you readjust.

While returning home can be a difficult journey in itself, this should not deter you from traveling. It is an enriching experience, and reverse culture shock is largely a result of beginning to understand what you gained while you were away. It doesn’t really begin to make sense until you see how small and arbitrary the world that you came from really is. That sounds hipster, but it’s really not, see you on the road.

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