Coming (back) to America: Dealing with reverse culture shock

As seen on DIWYY

It’s almost midnight on a blistery November evening in central Illinois and the line outside the department store is thirty people deep. Women and men of all ages crowd around each other flipping through coupon books and talking about bargains with what I can’t help but notice is a small hint of rivalry in their voices. I stand back and watch it all, utterly fascinated and completely in awe.

My curiosity stems from the fact that I’ve lived out of America for the last fifteen months where there is no Black Friday; no race to the sofa-armchair combo, no fight over the last flat-screen TV, and certainly no dispute over who really grabbed that digital camera first. I think fondly of my time abroad, about the spectacular things I would encounter on a near-daily basis and sometimes long for again, then realize I have so much to discover (or re-discover) here at home.

Whether you’re gone for a month or a decade, and no matter where you’ve traveled to, coming home is a tough transition. I had spent the last year teaching English in South Korea and backpacking through Southeast Asia, even making a pit-stop in Italy before finally coming home. I was so anxious, excited, and nervous to be back in America with friends and family I had missed so dearly. Yet it’s not easy to go from adventure and exploring the daring unknown to sitting on your parent’s couch within the same week. Not to mention the fact that I had forgotten about everyday things that my friends and family were still accustomed to (seriously, what’s tipping and how much do I leave?)

I faced a daily internal struggle that plagued my mind and made me think that I wasn’t realizing my true potential. I wanted to know why I didn’t already have a plan. I questioned how I could be so independent only to come home and rely so heavily on others. How could I live in Asia for a year but I couldn’t figure out life in my homeland?

Then I realized I wasn’t giving myself any time to relax, to cope with the change, and to process how difficult my once familiar way of life might be. It was only after I reassured myself that everything was going to be okay, that I realized everything was already okay.

Besides allowing yourself a break, there are other remedies to aid your reverse culture shock. A simple way is to keep in touch with friends you made abroad. Cross-country (or cross-world) communication is easier than ever today. Find friends on Facebook or Skype and make it a point to send an e-mail or make a phone call at least once a week. You’ve made amazing friends while traveling, don’t let them forget you care about them.

And although your friends and family at home might not understand the decisions you made abroad or comprehend the scope of it all, they still care. Talk to people when they ask questions, answer them honestly and remember to keep them in mind; they’ve had amazing adventures during your time away, too.

Most importantly, cherish your experience. It’s hard to remember details of trips, the names of people you met, or that really awesome restaurant you ate at. Luckily, it is easy to keep a journal or blog while traveling and you’ll be thankful you did when you can look back whenever you like to truly remember, and appreciate, the amazing things you did.

Regardless of where you call home, it’s important to remember that extraordinary things await you there, as well. So often I think America won’t offer me the same things another country will, and though in many ways that’s true, it’s also incredibly unfair. Remember that you don’t have to cross an ocean to find things that will inspire you.


8 thoughts on “Coming (back) to America: Dealing with reverse culture shock

  1. Great post and original subject manor.

    Black Friday is an odd footnote for history. It bothers me too. My sister LOVES to go out and fight the crowds but I, having worked 12 years in retail, am happy to sit on the couch and eat another turkey sandwich.

    1. Thank you so much! Black Friday was one of the first “big” things that happened when I returned, so it was odd for me to see it all go down. I felt like a complete foreigner. I can’t imagine how you dealt with it for 12 years. You’re incredibly brave… and patient.

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