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How To Survive Reverse Culture Shock

Heading back to Virginia

Heading back to Virginia

If ever there was a long term traveler who didn't want to experience reverse culture shock, it was me one month ago in Medellin.  I'd been living the good life for 20 months, and I knew my time was almost up.  Before I left home in 2007, I imagined myself as possessing the maturity to return when “the time was right.”  In reality, I had fully transitioned to a new way of life, and I wasn't prepared to let go.

Despite my stationary status in Colombia toward the end, I only had to step out of my apartment to be in an exotic culture where salsa music surrounded me, palm trees lined the streets, mountains were visible whenever I looked above the horizon, and animal testicles were a popular offering in the local park.  Somehow, returning to predictable, suburban America was less than appealing.

Surprisingly, I discovered a plethora of ways to actually enjoy the re-entry process.  Without further ado, I offer you my 10 best tips for transitioning home from traveling and living abroad.

1. Take Advantage of Seeing Your Native Country Through New Eyes

You've been away a long time and suddenly you're back on familiar soil, yet your perspective is inevitably different as a result of all the other cultures and ways of life you've been exposed to while away.  Take this unique opportunity (which might feel like a psychedelic mind trip) to follow whatever strikes up your curiosity about an environment in which the mundane may suddenly seem fascinating.  By embracing a child-like curiosity, home might not seem so boring after all.

2. Continue Meeting New People

A universally appreciated aspect of independent travel is the way in which relationships can form through the briefest of shared experiences.  You are constantly exposed to new ways of thinking, cultural backgrounds, and ways to swear in foreign languages.  Back at home, pretend you are once again the new guy or girl in town (which you should be use to by then) and you'll see just how easy it is to keep that social travel vibe going.

3. Seek Out Activities Inspired From Abroad

Didn't get a chance to join an ashram in India?  Start taking yoga classes when you get home.  Become addicted to salsa in Latin America?  Do a web search for bars in your area offering salsa nights.  The list is endless, from sports to spirituality, cooking to kayaking, chances are good you've picked up a few new interests to pursue.

4. Be Slow to Reconnect with People

Purposefully spread out your reunions with family, friends, old colleagues and acquaintances over several weeks, if not months.  This will give you an opportunity to continue telling tales of your adventures abroad over an extended period of time.  Even your most ardent admirers won't likely have the ear for more than a few stories during that first meeting.  If they do, enjoy the experience!

5. Take A Few Weekend Trips

If you've been traveling a long time, you may get antsy being in the same place for an extended time.  Plan a few short weekends away, perhaps once a month, to nearby places.  Moving around a little will surely stir up memories of your travels and hopefully put you back in the same emotional state.  These trips could be to reconnect with old friends or couchsurf and explore new cities.

6. Consider Living Somewhere New

Travel long enough, and “home” becomes wherever you lay your head at night.  Starting over in new places becomes routine, so why not take advantage of this comfort level and look for your next job in a new city or region of the country.  If you find work there, then you can look forward to discovering a new place all over again, which will surely keep you occupied as opposed to settling back into old routines in a familiar environment.

7. Eat Well

Food is an easy way to reconnect with the countries you visited.  Once you've experienced authentic Thai food, Indian curries, or Spanish tapas, you know what to look for in a good restaurant.  Suddenly, the large Vietnamese population in your area is a big plus, since going out for pho reminds you of that time in Ho Chi Minh City when…

8. Catch Up on Your Reading

Remember how everyone in Asia seemed to be reading Shantaram, but you didn't have the desire to carry around a 944-page book?  Being home is an opportune time to catch up on the reading you missed while traveling.  If the books of interest are set in places you've already been, then you will be able to more easily identify with them.  At the same time, indulge in a few books about the places didn't visit to keep your wanderlust alive.

9.  Savor Souvenirs + Give Gifts

Savor your souvenirs and give yourself permission to fully enjoy them.  Frame and hang the new Laotian watercolors on your wall.  Sip the variety of teas you amassed in China.  Make a custom photobook of your favorite animal encounters, or a calendar to hang up at your next job.  Along the same lines, give the exotic gifts you collected to their intended recipients.  Hopefully, Dad will appreciate the authentic Sikh sword you picked up in Punjab!

10. Reconnect With People You Met Abroad

Relationships of varying strengths are formed while traveling, and chances are you already have a bell curve on Facebook with regard to the frequency you communicate with people.  Take the time to invest in your strongest travel-generated relationships by staying in touch with messages from time to time.  It will give you a chance to relive some old experiences.  With a little luck, you'll see each other again.

Don't be surprised if most people don't respond.  When together in person, asking for an e-mail address or Facebook seems natural, however once you're both back at home, you may find the connection was only the result of being at the same place, at the same time.  C'est la vie!

In conclusion, your experience returning home after extended travel is going to be largely based on attitude.  Use these tips to adopt the right mindset, and try not to compare life at home with that on the road.  Instead, think about how much you've grown during the time you were away, and look ahead to the new adventures that await you.

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Serhat Engul

Friday 14th of October 2016

Great list of tips to get used to cultural change. thank you.

Carmen Everywhere

Tuesday 23rd of February 2016

Dave, this is a very nice refreshing concept, 'reverse cultural shock'. They say when you go back to a place after a long time it does not feel the same, We all have romanticized notions of places and memories we left behind isn't it? Now I know how to best deal with it practically. I am a consummate traveler and have spent most of my time outside my native Spain over the last half decade, So I can relate to what you are saying here, But nothing like living in a place for so long like you have done.

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Saturday 30th of October 2010

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Burton Haynes

Friday 29th of October 2010

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Wednesday 19th of August 2009

Great article! I just got back from India a few days ago, so it is both timely and helpful! To read more of my travels:

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