Dealing with Reverse Culture Shock

11/26/2013

For some, the familiarity and predictability of home can be comforting and ease the transition process of repatriation. But for others, it is the very act of returning to the familiar that may be difficult. Their home-base lifestyle no longer seems interesting or appealing. For example, that comfortable suburban home doesn’t hold the same cache it once did if the person has been living abroad in a vibrant, cosmopolitan city.

Many repatriates or international assignees who have returned home find the initial transition period disappointing, exhausting, frustrating and difficult. They report feeling disillusioned, overwhelmed, isolated or out of step with everyone else. These feelings may be further exacerbated by the fact that everyone expects them to just “fit back in” without the extensive financial, practical and emotional support that was provided when they went abroad.

Berlitz found in a 2010 study on expats that respondents overwhelmingly wanted to repeat the expatriate experience (90%). Many had difficulty moving back home.

It is evident that repatriation has its ups and downs. One of the first challenges of repatriation is “reverse culture shock.” The initial sadness of saying goodbye to new friends and the lifestyle they have adapted to is replaced with a sense of excitement of returning home, followed by the actual stress of the relocation. Unrealistic expectations of the return home often lead to this phase of reverse culture shock, leaving them with thoughts and feelings of disappointment, not feeling special any longer, being out of touch, and constantly making comparisons between home and the assignment location.

Even though it seems difficult, after some time, a new sense of belonging and comfort eventually start to take over.

Diane McGreal