Who Cares About Reverse Culture Shock?! I Do, and So Should You!

Suite101 has a great series on Work/Study abroad which features several articles on expat life by contributing writer Maria Foley. Since I’ve been focusing on reverse culture shock a lot lately, I wanted to share these two articles by her, with blurbs from various interviews with expats who have gone through the experience, and references to a great piece by Sheila J. Ramsey, PH.D., and Barbara Schaetti called ‘Re-entry: Coming “home” to the Unfamiliar’. Maria’s second article offers solutions on how to manage reverse culture shock, which are practical and important.

I’ve been bringing this topic up a lot lately, thinking about it and linking to various articles about it, but I don’t think I’ve ever explained why I even care. Yes, I work with relocation and expat issues and am fascinated by any subjects along these lines. As a lifelong expat, I have also had to deal with reverse culture shock more than once. More than that, as a Third Culture Kid, I’ve never felt truly at home in any particular place. For a visual explanation, check out Mr. Roundhead.

Most memorably, I had to move from my beloved Thailand to go to university in the U.S., my passport home and a place that felt foreign to me after 10 years away. Meanwhile, my parents moved to Lagos, Nigeria, of all places. So I couldn’t even go back and visit Bangkok. My fragile roots were ripped from the ground. My parents had to twist my arm to get me to visit them in Lagos, but I finally did.

But, I’m used to that. Having been raised in an expat lifestyle, that is par for the course and I know to expect it. What is more interesting is what happened to my husband when he returned to Norway after 20 years abroad. He had been dreaming of returning home – it was described to me as an idyllic place to settle down, so I assumed he was thrilled to be back in Oslo.

I didn’t even recognize the signs of something I was so familiar with. As we discovered later, he was completely out of his element. His Norwegian was weak, he was out of touch with current events, and he no longer had a social network. He was unhappy and depressed, but had no idea why. I wrote it off as something else and didn’t see the bigger picture.

When I finally began to read about reverse culture shock, it all made sense. I shared the articles and information with him and he had a real “Aha!” moment. Once he was introduced to the concept, he recognized all the symptoms and effects it had had on him, and he could begin to make peace with it. He still isn’t 100% settled nor will he ever feel 100% Norwegian again, but he has found a new space for himself and has settled into a new rhythm.

My point is, information is king. Sometimes just hearing about reverse culture shock is enough to give you clarity and acceptance, and help you to move on. If others weren’t sharing these findings with the world, there would be a lot more returnees suffering and confused about their feelings. Often, all you need to know is that you’re not the only one. So thanks to people like Maria Foley who are spreading the word!

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