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Reverse Culture Shock


WRITTEN BY: Robert L. Kohls, author of "Survivors Kit Overseas Living" ADDED: April 15, 2008



Just as you will have had to brace yourself for a period of psychological disorientation when left your home country, you should know that after your time abroad, you may also have to prepare yourself for a parallel period of readjustment when you return home. Why? Simply because, if you have had a full experience living and learning overseas, you are likely to have changed some while you have been away, so the place you return to may itself appear to have changed, as indeed it might have. Even though these changes are seldom huge, and may not be apparent to others, you are likely to be very aware of them, and this can be confusing, all the moreso because it is unexpected.


Immediately after your return, you can probably expect to go through an initial stage of euphoria and excitement. Most people are overwhelmed by the sheer joy of being back on their native turf. But as you try to settle back into your former routine, you may recognize that your overseas experience has changed some or many of your perceptions and assumptions, your ways of doing things, even what it means to 'be yourself'. You might have become, in a sense, a somewhat new person. After all, that is what education is all about! But this intellectual and personal growth means that you can expect a period of disorientation as you adjust to the new environment at home.


The re-adjustment period is usually rather short-lived, since home will never be as foreign to you as the foreign environment you adjusted to overseas. Also, your experience of dealing successfully with culture shock abroad will have provided you with the psychological tools for dealing with the challenges of readjustment. Obviously, the more you have changed, often a byproduct of the time you were away and how deeply you immersed yourself, the more difficult it will be to have things go back to a previous notion of normality. However, if you are aware of the changes and seek to learn from them, smooth adaptation is more likely.


As a means of readjusting and staying in touch with the international scene, you may want to consider contacting your co-workers and friends who were abroad, currently abroad, or who are thinking about going abroad. There are many ways of maintaining contact with friends you made overseas, foreign and domestic, and also of remaining in touch with the culture you entered and now have left, via: letters, e-mail, phoning, magazines, books, etc. Discussing things and sharing experiences with others is almost always worthwile. Remembering what it was like for you to have been, for a time, a 'foreigner' should inspire you to try to get to know the international students or workers in the local community or others from 'minority' backgrounds, who may themselves be feeling some of the same social dislocation and alientation you once felt when you were overseas. The key is to build on the cross-cultural coping skills you now possess and to find conscious ways of integrating your new 'self' into your evolving personal and academic life, not seeing it as a 'dream' or something irrelevant to your future. 



Thank you to New Zealand's JETAA website for passing along this passage from Mr. Kohls book "Survival Kit for Overseas Living".  Many government and nonprofit agency officials who plan to live abroad have read his book.  Mr. Kohls passed away August 7, 2006, but he lived a full life striving to improve cultural understanding.  His surviving wife, Norma Kohls, has granted Englipedia permission to host this article.



This page was last modified on Wednesday, March 19, 2014 11:48:07 AM