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Reverse culture shock: is repatriation more difficult than expatriation?

The time is drawing close for students studying or working
abroad to move back home. As the season of summer begins, students who have
spent three years studying abroad suddenly find themselves packing to mark the
end of university. Intern ships are drawing to an end and people may be asking themselves
whether they are ready to go home.

Most people have heard of the term culture shock and will
probably experience it at some point in their lives. It’s something to expect
when moving abroad to a country that is vastly different than your own. But
what many expats don’t realise is that reverse culture shock also exists.
Reverse culture shock, is the shock received upon returning home again. It can
be quite difficult to deal with.

Just as it takes time to assimilate into the new culture and
country you are moving to, it will also take some time to adapt back into your
home life. It’s a common misconception that moving back home will be incredibly
easy, because you have lived there before. Moving back into a certain type of
house, registering the kids for school again, registering at your local medical
centre because you are no longer relying on expat medical insurance and
socialising with old peers can be hard. Your entire life has to be unpacked,
new jobs secured and accommodation found.

It can be argued that expatriates that return home early due
to factors such as medical problems, family issues or lack of finance, find it
more challenging. Moving home prematurely means having to repatriate earlier
than you may have originally intended to and this can add to the shock factor.
Symptoms of reverse culture shock typically include:

  • Confusion and uncertainty 
  • Frustration and boredom 
  • Homesickness for those living abroad
  • Feeling isolated and sad
  • A change in values and attitudes 
  • A sense of pessimism towards your native home and culture 

 

This is because you would have undoubtedly grown in
different ways whilst living abroad. Your perception about yourself and your
environment will have changed whilst living in another country and therefore,
home may not be as familiar as it once was. It is not uncommon to find yourself
out of tune with the people you were once very close with and this is because
home, along with its residents, has changed.

Things that were once familiar and comforting are not any
more. Expatriates bring new views of the world and new ways of life back home
and this can make it tricky to pick up old relationships. Body language can be
different and streets and houses can feel alienating.

There are a few things you can do to make repatriation a
little easier:

  • Give yourself the much needed time to adjust and relax.
    Don’t try and rush back into the routine of things. Understand that things have
    changed. 
  • Reflection is key and you should take pride in how much you
    have grown and changed. Focus on these accomplishments and utilise the news
    skills and abilities you have picked up. 
  • Help family members and friends understand that you won’t be
    the same person as the one that you were when you left. Give them time to also
    adapt to the new you. 

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