With similar emotions to Culture Shock, people don’t really talk about Re-Entry Shock, but I think 2021+ will have a lot of parallels as people go back to work, start to travel again, become more nomadic and work from anywhere. I predict people trying to get “back to normal” post COVID19 will also experience similar emotions.
Culture Shock is a sense of anxiety, depression, or confusion that results from being cut off from your familiar culture, environment, and norms when living in a foreign country or society. Those experiencing culture shock go through distinct phases of euphoria, discomfort, adjustment, and acceptance.
In reverse, when living for long periods outside of your home country, it’s likely you’ll feel the same in similar ways. Having experienced both Culture and Re-Entry Shock, I think the latter is MUCH harder to accept because it seems unnecessary or manufactured.
I mean, you’re going “home”, right? or you’re getting back to your “normal life”? Why and how should that be harder than experiencing a whole new country, language, currency and culture? But for me, and I think many others, it is. It feels like I no longer have a country. It feels like I don’t belong really anywhere. It feels like I’m straddling two worlds, and no one (but others in the exact same position) understands it. This feels isolating, scary and unsettling.
We have been back in the USA for a few weeks now, and while I was excited to get back, get our vaccines, and also spend quality time to see family and friends, I knew to expect a less than glorious landing. And, so it is.
I’ve experienced Culture Shock many times in my life. It can be exhilarating, debilitating and annoying. Re-entry Shock feels worse.
When I first moved to Turkey in 1988, I was hit hard with culture shock. Although I felt prepared for it, it was surprising just how much of a roller coaster of emotions I experienced before settling in and adapting. After a couple of years there, I returned back to the USA, and the “re-entry shock” was harder than the original culture shock. I needed a cultural de-brief. I missed many pop culture references, didn’t see movies people were talking about, and I had bizarre interactions that made me feel like a fish out of water. Although I could speak my native language, I felt awkward contributing to conversations.
Fast forward to today, living in Mexico and Turkey most of the year, getting back to the USA (during a pandemic, no less) hasn’t been easy, and I have been fighting the realization that I’m going through a major adjustment. I have been irritable, impatient, easily annoyed and really missing my life abroad. Conversations abroad somehow seem more stimulating – discussing global ideas and challenges, providing broader points of view and perspectives on the world and the citizens in it. Getting back to the USA feels stagnant, revisiting the same small conversations and discussing silly TV programs or talking about how “hard” someone’s life is in the USA when they have absolutely everything they could possibly want or need. Let’s not even begin to discuss politics….
So, I decided to dig into what’s really happening, and similar to grief, re-entry shock has stages.
The myths around returning to your home country are similar: 1) that “home” will be recognizable and easy to merge back into, 2) that family and friends will be interested in what you’ve done (or even care about all you’ve gone through), 3) that you’ll feel “at home”, 4) that the skills you learned abroad are actually welcome in your home country, 4) that because it’s familiar, it will be easier, and 5) that you won’t miss your friends abroad as you see your familiar friends and family back home.
Surrounding yourself with familiar things from your life abroad, taking it slow, breathing, getting outside, and turning off the TV can help immensely, but we aren’t out of the woods just yet. I predict I have another 60+ days to fully adapt. Just in time for us to leave the country and experience it all over again.
For more reading on this topic, this article was extremely helpful. https://horizonunknown.com/5-stages-culture-shock-how-to-overcome/