Have you ever returned home from a long trip and realised that what’s normal is no longer desired? Do you then have the urge to drop everything to get out of here? This is so-called ‘reverse culture shock’. Amy Huang shares her experience here.
Squinting, I tried to take in my surroundings and it took me two minutes to get used to the light. My baggy pants and the rags that I called a t-shirt seemed to look out of place in this shiny new polished shopping center. People were milling about in large numbers and a traffic jam was forming just a few feet away.
Where did all these people come from? How is it possible that everything was so familiar yet I feel so alien?
It was our first day back in ‘civilization’ from having lived with the rural communities for four months in Peru, and I was already lost. Was it only yesterday that we had been fetching our own water from the lake and squatting low over holes on the ground to go to the toilet? Has the world always been this bright and modern while we were labouring away with makeshift tools and eating whatever could be provided?
For the first three days after getting ‘back’, I stood in the shower basking in the hot water, I smiled at the sound of a toilet flushing, I admired the clean new tiles on the walls and I enjoyed eating at a proper dinner table.
What I did not expect was that after the initial relief of having all these modernity around me, I grew to hate it. I hated all of it with gusto, as they reminded me just how little the communities out there outside the cities had, and how well they still manage to survive without all these fancy inventions we have been taking for granted in the modern world.
I was angry at the inequality and I grieved that the modern human will probably no longer survive if left out in the wild on his or her own. Then I remembered this feeling. I first felt it touching down on home soil after a year study abroad.
I was experiencing the phenomenon of reverse culture shock.
Just as much as a traveler can experience culture shock when they visit places where lifestyle and culture are completely different to where they came from, a similar shock can occur for those who have spent an amount of time away from home. We have to get used to being back home, get used the way it used to be again.
The main issue here is, after we have spent a significant time away from ‘home’, after having learned a new culture, new language and made new friends, we are no longer the person we were before. You find that you have so much to tell, so much information to part with yet no one at home is interested. They don’t understand your fascination with an alternative lifestyle. This reverse culture shock really bites hard!
However, try see it as good thing. To travel is to enrich our person, broaden our minds and appreciate our surroundings, and it is exactly for this reason that we may return home and realise: I no longer like this routine lifestyle, no longer want to be in a ‘familiar’ place and no longer want to be home. After all, travel is addictive.
Don’t be alarmed, it’s all part of the learning process, and you will always come out of it better prepared for the next time.
If not, plan another trip. Too much travel experience never hurt anyone!
Have you experienced reverse culture shock? What was the most difficult part about coming home? Share your story in the comments below.