Thursday, July 26, 2007

Reverse Culture Shock: Coping with the Return Home after Extended Travel

After an extended period of time traveling away from home, how does one adjust to returning back to "normal" life?

For me it was really difficult to return back to Texas after traveling the world for three years. I've finally managed to wake up in the mornings and instantly figure out what bed I'm in and what city I'm in (my own and Houston are the correct answers) as opposed to waking up in my bunk in my coffin sized cabin on a yacht anchored off some Caribbean island that we arrived to that morning.

It hasn't been easy adjusting to normal life, but here are a few suggestions I have for fellow travelers trying to fit into society:

1. Know What to Expect

Get ready before you even return home. Know that life is just going to be different and so are you.

2. Establish a routine

The best way to begin re-familiarizing yourself with your own culture is to get into a similar routine that you had before you left. Before I moved to St. Maarten I would attend church on Sundays and then go to Starbucks afterward as my reward for actually making myself go to church! When I moved away to the Caribbean, I lost this routine. Since I have come back to the states, I've returned to this routine and I find it comforting. Obviously, you don't have to do what I've done, but think back to a routine you had before you left, say movie night every Friday with a group of friends. There is comfort in routine and you might find this as a good option to the return of "normalcy." This behavior also gives you a sense of control. More than likely you are going to feel a little out of whack with the rest of society for a while.

3. Surround Yourself with Friends and Family

You will find that most things will be the same as when you left, but a few things will have changed. Maybe your friends will have moved, gone through changes in their own lives, but the basic values that you and your friends shared that made you friends in the first place have likely not changed. After all, they have known you your whole life while the new friends you made while traveling only have known you for a few days or months. They may not really know you at all other than you are good with finding the best pubs to crawl.

While you may have different understandings and beliefs since you left, you are still in many ways the same. Your core has not changed. Surrounding yourself with friends and family will breed a familiarity that you may not have had in a while. Your friends and family will give you a sense of balance that's necessary for re-adjustment. Try not to talk too much about how great it was to see the Mona Lisa at the Louvre or how you went to the best party ever on New Years in Thailand. You'll only alienate yourself because they just won't understand. Only fellow travelers will really understand you then.

4. Keep in Touch

Stay in contact with your friends that you made while traveling. If they have returned home too, they are probably going through the same feelings of reverse culture shock as you. They are the ones that you can re-hash your travel tales.

5. Stay Busy

Don't sit around mourning that you've returned home from a fun filled adventure never to return again(like I did!). Allow yourself to get out there and experience your new city and to find new friends.

6. Recognize You're Not Alone

Remember that experiencing difficulty in re-adjusting to home is very common. You may find yourself getting upset with "how things are done" back home. This is normal. Try to look at your own culture with the same open-mindedness you had when you were traveling to new countries. Realize that in time, you can manage to re-adjust to your home while keeping the great experiences and life lessons that you had while traveling and remain the same person with just a little more understanding than the rest.


K. said...

I look forward to the day I've culture shock in my own country.

Sam said...

You think that, until it happens. It is always well worth it, but not always easy. I just spent 3 months in Ecuador and nothing seems the same at home anymore. It's very strange...

Amber said...

I just got back from volunteering in India, and I can't figure out how I feel about anything. if that makes any sense!? everything seems different, but I know its only me, that has actually changed. the most confussing part, is I'm not sure how I feel about my current relationship, my job, my roomate. the only thing I am sure of is my major in school. I'm all backwards. thank you for you advice. It helps to know, others have experience the same shock. :D

Jerri said...

Amber, I've never heard of anyone who had come back from India the same. Everyone who has ever been had told me that India changed their life. Not just in a little way, but a major impactive nothing will ever be the same way. You are amazing and strong and how you feel is, while it may be hard to believe, completely normal.

You'll get it figured out. You're totally smart enough to. Good luck :)

Anonymous said...

I totally relate after only a month in west Africa. Feeling very lost and sad to be home in many ways. Feels like I've lost all the amazing friends & experiences I made and although life is slowly returning to what is 'normal' I am just not finding the process easy. Is kind of comforting to know this experience is one shared by travellers, although the first time for me. Thanks for writing the article

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