Reverse culture shock is a phenomenon that happens when you return to your life at home after spending a significant amount of time in a different country or culture (or perhaps, like me, more than one). It is an adjustment period during which you reacquaint yourself with the ins and outs of things and emotionally and psychologically tune back in to your country’s rhythms.
Frankly, experiencing reverse culture shock when I arrived home in Hawaii surprised me. I wasn’t expecting it, but I suppose no one really is. You always leave home with an open mind and a willingness to do things according to customs in your new host country. You may even look forward to learning about the differences. But, you never realize that transitioning into your native country can be just as jarring on you mentally and emotionally.
Thinking back on it, reverse culture shock began on the way home from the airport, but I didn’t recognize it. My surroundings looked slightly different from what I remembered, as if the Earth had shifted a degree or two and things were just a bit off kilter. The differences are usually noticeable enough to trigger a question mark in your mind that things are not quite right but small enough that you can’t quite place what’s bothering you.
The biggest adjustment for me was accepting the sudden monotony that came with my life at home. Of course, for the first couple of days and weeks, I embraced the idea of being at home (even though I technically didn’t have a home of my own and was living with my brother and his family).
Being a solo traveler, you must be constantly alert and this is completely exhausting. Fighting just to get from point A to point B is a daily struggle. Being the sole decision maker can be utterly draining. But, after the travel fatigue wore off, I was ready for new challenges and adventures again. I was like a drug addict craving my next hit, except my drug of choice was traveling.
It took me a while to accept that there would be no next hit. I needed to focus on settling back into “real life.” I updated my résumé (how does one include all the skills and experiences attained through travel in a way that human resources departments will understand?) and applied to marketing and public relations jobs that I didn’t really want. I began scouring Craiglist for a used car since I sold my vehicle before I left. I did all the right things but did them half-heartedly. In the back of my mind I was really searching for a way to fulfill my need to travel.
This cycle went on for months as I watched everyone around me continue with their lives. I met up with friends and found that nothing had really changed since I’d left. How can nothing have changed when I felt so different? This is the realization that made me aware I was suffering from reverse culture shock.
As the days passed, I kept asking myself if this was it. Was this the life I was meant to live? I really didn’t want to jump back into the daily grind I left. I didn’t want to pursue some golden ring at the top of the corporate ladder. But if not that, then what?