Even after all the effort we put in to preparing for long-term travel, there is still one thing that can completely blindside us: the reverse culture shock that comes with returning home.
Reverse culture shock is the feeling of your world being turned upside down all over again, even in a familiar place. Just as you adapt to a new culture abroad, so too must you readapt to your home culture, and your new sense of self within that culture.
Recently, I made the move from Tel Aviv, Israel, back to Roseville, Minnesota, where I grew up. I anticipated that being back in my hometown would be an adjustment, however, it wasn’t until I actually arrived that I realized how much of an adjustment it would be.
I couldn’t possibly have prepared for this.
My time back at home was riddled with nostalgia. Memories of childhood and high school were mixed up with over a year’s worth of memories from Israel. It almost felt like I was thinking back on a dream.
I had so many stories, memories, and friendships to show for this past year, but a part of me felt as if it didn’t happen and I was imagining everything. To complicate the feelings of nostalgia, everything at home seemed the same, yet slightly different; my family’s favorite coffee shop was still around and busier than ever. The diner down the street still served my favorite blueberry pancakes, and yet, there’s a whole new set of buildings downtown that I don’t recognize. Then there’s a big hole where our local co-op used to be, and public transportation lines now connect parts of the city that we previously had to drive.
The first couple weeks of living back at home were tough, as I navigated these powerful feelings of reverse culture shock. I found I had to redefine what home meant to me since my role here has changed. I am in the same geographical place, but I am no longer in my childhood. I am a different person now.
I realized that while my hometown shaped a large part of who I am, my time in Israel only further established the person I have grown to be. Accepting this compatibility of experiences allowed me to feel more fully at peace at home. I also found that taking certain concrete steps helped in dealing with this transition and reverse culture shock.
Here’s a list of my tips below, in case you are going through a similar experience.
5 Tips For Dealing With Reverse Culture Shock
1) Relive the Previous Adventure
With this first tip, I don’t mean to distance yourself from the present moment. Rather, look at pictures and make an active effort to keep in touch with people you met while traveling or living in a foreign country.
Looking at photos and videos of Tel Aviv and other parts of Israel and reliving the memories from my time there helped me feel reassured amidst moments of questioning whether the whole experience was just an amazing dream.
Talking and Skyping with friends from my year away reminded me of all the wonderful, lifelong friendships I was able to take away from living abroad. These simple activities are essential for keeping the experience close and remembering how I’ve changed and what I’ve learned.
2) Reconnect With Old Friends
I kept in touch with my closest friends over the past year, so we were already up to date on each other’s lives. However, upon my return I reached out to friends I hadn’t seen or spoken with in a long time.
This added an enjoyable new aspect to returning home.
3) Learn Something New
Take this strange time as an opportunity to learn something new. This helps create new memories in a place that is otherwise pretty familiar, thus maintaining one of the aspects I like most about travel: the novelty of exploring unfamiliar things.
I always wanted to learn how to play the guitar and speak Spanish. I played other instruments as a kid, and I speak a couple other languages, but the guitar and the Spanish language were always calling to me. So, I signed up for lessons. This gave me something to look forward to every week and added a fun, intriguing dimension to my time back at home.
4) Be a Tourist In Your Own City
This is perhaps my favorite tip. We get used to exploring far off countries and remote places, and yet when returning to a place we know well, we also fall back into old routines, frequenting familiar restaurants and doing the same activities.
Actively seeking out new experiences and sites in your home town keeps your adventurous spirit alive.
Instead of hitting up our usual neighborhood locales, I dragged my family to restaurants we hadn’t been to before, coffee shops we didn’t know existed, and bike rides and walks in parts of the city we rarely ever went. Along with the Spanish and guitar lessons, exploring new places directly applied one of my favorites parts of travel into my life back at home.
5) Plan New Adventures
My final tip is to have other trips and adventures planned that you can look forward to. Almost immediately after returning home, I left again for the East Coast to visit my grandparents and a close friend.
This trip made those first days back a bit less depressing, even while I looked forlornly through old pictures from Israel and other travels from this past year, because I knew I’d soon be on the move again.
Life is always moving forward, a series of beginnings and ends. In those moments where you feel stuck, anxious, or nostalgic, longing to be back on the road, just know that your next big adventure, whether near or far, is right around the corner.
By Maddy Wolfe