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Reverse culture shock

Cartoon of a strange alien creature

Ever felt like an alien?

Reverse culture shock: what is it and how can you cope?

If you have moved away from the UK for a significant period of time you probably experienced some level of culture shock when you first arrived in your new country of residence. Most people are prepared for this, and realise it takes time to adjust. What you may not be aware of is that a similar process is likely to happen if you move back to British shores.

Even though many people don’t speak about it, because they see it as a sign of weakness, reverse culture shock is very real. The level of culture shock you encounter depends on the individual, but it’s likely that if you’re returning to the UK you’ll experience some level of difficulty.

Isn’t it a good thing that you’ll be seeing your friends and family again?

The vast majority of people who return to live in the UK look forward to seeing familiar people and sights again. Reverse culture shock is not necessarily connected with any misgivings at the return; you may be perfectly happy at the prospect. In fact, more often than not, a feeling of excitement occurs before the culture shock sets in.

Why doesn’t the feeling of excitement last?

When people first return to live in the UK they are usually full of stories about the time they have spent abroad, and they expect people to want to listen. At first, people are interested, and probably listen intently to the stories; then the problems start.

Everyone has their own life to live, and people soon tire of listening to the people who have returned. There is no malice in this lack of interest; it’s merely that people have other things to be interested in. This doesn’t stop people who have returned home from feeling upset when it seems as though people are ignoring them.

If you return to the UK, it’s important to remember that people may be excited to see you at first, but ultimately they will just carry on with their lives as normal. If you try and manage your expectations from the start you will be better equipped to deal with the situation.

Why might you feel as though you are in a foreign land?

It’s not just interactions with people that you might find difficult if you return to live in the UK. If you have been living in another country for a significant period of time, you will have adjusted to your new environment. Over time you will have become integrated into your new community.

Of course, this is a good thing, but it can cause you difficulties if you return to live in the UK. You have left a community where you belonged, and a culture you had become immersed in, to return to a place that you have lost touch with. You may find yourself comparing your neighbourhood in the UK unfavourably with the place you have come from. This can make you start to regret the move back home.

It’s important to give yourself time. The more you allow yourself to get frustrated with your feelings of unease, the worse you are going to feel. It’s also important to accept the situation. If you understand that it’s going to take a while before you get used to the variances in conversation, routine and culture, you will eventually stop spending all your time dwelling on the issues, and before you know it you will be starting to adjust.

Why does it feel as though you are on the outside looking in?

Put together the issues with feeling ignored, and the problems adapting to the lifestyle, and it can often feel as though you are watching a film or TV show, rather than living your life. This is because you see everyone else following their routines, and you have yet to get used to yours. It’s easy to feel down about the situation, but you need to make the effort to do things to help you adapt. Getting back into the routine of work can help, as can joining a gym or evening classes. Don’t spend your time sitting feeling sorry for yourself—get out and start to fit in.

It may feel as though you are never going to integrate, but the day will come when you start to feel comfortable being back in the UK, and happy in your new life.

PG Author: Olly Sampson

Olly Sampson co-owns Brighton removals firm Bee Moved. They have helped many families begin their expat journey.

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1 Comment

Mike Kingdom-Hockings 03-06-2015, 11:05

Children usually re-adjust fairly quickly, but often suffer the greatest shocks, particularly if they are returning to town/city life in the UK after a few years in rural or even ‘pioneer’ life somewhere like Africa or outback Australia. I remember a school friend’s twelve year old brother when he returned to Hampshire after three years in the Australian opal mining town of Tennant Creek. He objected strongly to wearing a school cap instead of a proper digger hat, and missed weekends “out shooting ‘roos”. More recently, daughters of American friends in Botswana had to give up keeping chickens in their bedroom…

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