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Re-Entry Shock

Culture Shock Upon Returning Home

Whether traveling for an extended time period, or living abroad as an ex patriot, it is not uncommon to experience culture shock when returning to one’s home culture. Many travelers often discuss the strange experience of feeling like a foreigner when they return home. The causes of this feeling of dislocation are simple to understand but can be difficult to grapple with.

  • The longer one travels, the more one adapts to the culture of travel. In this culture, staying in one place for longer than several weeks is odd, washing ones clothes in anavigating-singapore sink is common place, and being unemployed is chic and enviable.
  • Although a traveler “fits” amongst fellow travelers and backpackers, a traveler grows accustom to feeling like a foreigner or stranger in each new country or city. This feeling eventually becomes a normal part of a travelers schema and her/she quickly grows a new identity such as “globe trotting backpacker” or “nomadic beer tester”. While developing a new identity, a traveler always carries with them, perhaps unconsciously, the idea that there is a place in the world where they are not a “foreigner”. A place where they understand the cultural rules and norms. A place where they are not an oddity and where locals do not take their picture as they walk down the street. Problematically, when a traveler returns “home” they often discover that the culture and friends they left behind continued to function in a predictable manner: friends and family members continued going to work, having children, getting married, starting new jobs, graduating from college, etc. The traveler often feels out of sorts as they begin to understand how much traveling has changed the way they think, act, and relate to the world around them.
  • In many cultures, the realities that allow a traveler to spend an extended time period bouncing around the globe, are not admirable or envious when they return home. Thus, being unemployed and not having a home make a traveler feel free and adventurous on the road while at home these very concepts make a traveler appear or feel like a loser or a bum.
  • At least in many Western Countries, traveling abroad is often cheaper than living at home. Thus the traveler who wandered around Asia for $25-$45 a day (living like a king) is forcefully reminded that being a millionaire in Singapore does not exactly help when trying to rent an apartment, pay a cell phone bill, or shop for groceries.

How to Adjust to Culture Shock at Home

To begin with, simply try to relax. Remember that although you may not feel “at home” you do actually understand the spoken and unspoken rules of your home culture. This of course, does not mean that you need to stop doing your laundry in the sink, but at least you will understand when your friends look at you funny.spending-the-day-with-the-tide

  • Prepare for Culture Shock: Recognize that re-entry will be difficult and that you cannot simply pick up your life where you left off. If possible, start the job hunt before you return home or consider aligning your return home with the start of a seasonal job. For example, line up a gig working the snow season in Colorado, or the the Cruise Ship season in Alaska. This will give you some time to adjust to “home” culture without the pressures of thinking that you need to go borrow money from the local land shark to buy your next meal.
  • Starting Over Money: Don’t spend every last dollar traveling. Set aside a “starting over” fund (at least $1,000 but probably more) and don’t touch it until you get home. This will make it easier to get established and will relieve some of the pressure while you start a new life. Having the security deposit and first month of rent for your new apartment is helpful for return.
  • Expect People Not to Care: This is not mean, it is just reality. Your friends and family will be glad to see you and happy that you are not roaming the streets of Istanbul penniless and alone. However, while you were off playing amateur anthropologist, “finding yourself”, or trying to out drink your new Aussie friends under the table, they were going to work, going to school and living their chosen lives. As a result, they will be more or less the same and you will be different. What is more, although they care about you and will be polite, they really do not care how much fun you had hitch hiking your way around Malaysia or mashing potatoes with a spoon in some ill equipped hostel kitchen. They won’t understand and you need to okay with that and stop telling travel stories.
  • Plan Your New Life: Why did you go traveling in the first place? Did you hate your job and needed to see what else the world offered? Did you love your job and took a well deserved sabbatical? Perhaps you just graduated from college and took a gap year before starting your career. Whatever made you want to go see the world in the first place focus on those memories and make the necessary changes as you begin to create a “new old” life for yourself. Perhaps this means aggressively pursuing a career change or going back to school to retool your skills. Whatever this means for you, formulate a plan before you return home so you don’t wake up six months after re-entry angry with fact that you picked up the same crappy life that you had before you left.

Re-entry Culture Shock is a part of traveling the world. If you find yourself feeling lonely and missing the world, go stay at a local hostel for a few nights and get to know the traveling occupants. If that does not help, you can always put off the re-entry problems, apply for a work visa, grab your backpack and hit the road again.

Article by Justin Boyd
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Brilliant article, I haven’t started my travels yet (leave in one month) but it sounds pretty much how I imagine it will be to return – will have to remember to re-read it before I return home!