Thursday, January 3, 2013

Reverse Culture Shock

A simple thing, just paying for gas, signaled my reverse culture shock

I have lived outside of my home country of the United States for the last two and a half years; I lived in Turkey for two years and in Portugal (the Azores) for the last six months. While I have traveled back to the U.S. a few times for conferences, these conferences were always held at resort locations and not in the "real" world.

This December, I had the chance to travel back to the U.S. to visit family and friends for three weeks. I felt a little out of place and a little confused about things that used to seem so simple. I couldn't put my finger on it until a conversation with a friend. He is South African living in the U.S., and he spoke of reverse culture shock.

Reverse Culture Shock is defined as "The shock suffered by some people when they return home after a number of years overseas. This can result in unexpected difficulty in readjusting to the culture and values of the home country, now that the previously familiar has become unfamiliar."

I had heard of this phenomenon before, but I never thought I would experience it myself. Granted, my reverse culture shock was mild, but that is exactly what I had.

Here is just one example:
I went to the gas station, and I forgot what to do. I know how to pump gas into my car, but I typically just stand by the gas pump, wave my ID card to the guy inside, fill up, then go inside and pay. Those in the U.S. may be laughing right now, but my friend Ron will verify. I stood outside the car and could not remember what to do. Do I go inside and pay first? Do I pump first and then pay? After a few confused seconds, I saw the pay-at-the-pump... oh, yeah! I forgot about those. I swiped my card and filled the gas tank. Then, obviously forgetting that I just swiped my card, I started walking inside to pay for the gas. Ugh!

I had numerous other episodes of just not remembering how things work, most dealing with shopping or ordering food or paying for bills. None were very significant, but they all slowed me down a bit. I realized I was more comfortable when no one was behind me in line, so that I had a few more seconds without pressure to figure out or remember how to order or pay for things.

I also witnessed many encounters with other individuals that either made me shake my head in disgust or disbelief (because of their rude or self-centered behavior) and others that made me smile (reminding me that there are some really good people in my home country).

This gave me a new appreciation for those people returning from deployments, the mission field, the Peace Corps, or even just living outside of their home country for a few years. It takes time to readjust.

Something to keep in mind if you are planning on spending any time outside of your home country for an extended time... as many in Permaculture do.


  1. ...this reminded me of two things immediately after our first 3 years overseas...we had had very little meat and no hamburgeres unless we ground the beef from the market ourselves -we were so excited to go to a fast food place -and could not for the life of us finish one hamburger --then friends took us to Fuddruckers and i had a panic attack in all the decisions and noise and excitement of ordering huge hamburgers --went to the grocery store and had another extremely nervous time where a friend had to help me pick which cheese to buy, which cereal and which laundry detergent --we had a little store overseas that we looked over the counter on the shelves and usually had one, at the most two choices of anything...granted i'm glad we don't have to choose canned cheese anymore! I think after so many years there I am now adapting to the fact that i'll just never be the same person i was before i left here...but more able to enjoy things here, knowing that if something really bothers me i get to go back an experience the opposite there --so we are actually lucky cuz we get to go back and forth now and be part of both worlds...I now call my own feelings Cultural jetlag each time we go one way or the other...I loved reading this -and am so thrilled for you guys that you get to expand your worlds -but it sure is nice to know other people who've lived in several worlds can understand you...and it gives me actually compassion for those who have never, ever had to move away from home and you guys!

  2. that was me, Tante Jan :)

  3. Great post. I moved back to the US for high school, after most of my life abroad, and it took me about 2 years to adjust. Reverse culture shock is a real thing!

  4. Thank you for the article. After 16 months in Iraq I felt way out of place back here for quite awhile. It eventually passed, but until I read this article I figured it was just me feeling weird.

  5. This happens inbetween moves in the US as well. Coming from my homeland (Hawaii) to Kansas (where I went to college) and then to Texas (where I live now), going home is...not "home" in the original sense anymore. SO much changed!!! I realized I had to allow myself a mourning period for what was no longer a reality...just a memory. So sadly, for a variety of reasons, I don't go back anymore. Just trying to embrace where the Lord has me in the moment. :-) - Andi


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