A Jolting Re-entry: Reverse Culture Shock

After 6 months of travel in Australia and New Zealand, I’ve been back in Canada now for nearly a month. I’d be lying if I said that upon my return some things did not feel completely weird and foreign. I expected a feeling of total familiarity and comfort of knowing I could pick up right where I left off, but while I learned so much about the world and myself, it seems like my home environment also changed.

This inconsistency between expectation and reality caused feelings of confusion, and harsh difficulty in relating my experience to others. I had been warned about reverse culture shock, but I never expected that I would feel its prominent impact.

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Having anticipated feelings of reverse culture shock, I readied myself by saying goodbye to all of my international friends while abroad, and prepared myself for the return home. With great excitement I thought about how soon I’d be back to Canada and everything I had left behind. Even though there was still the desire of wanting to travel and stay longer, I knew it was time to return home.

Snapchat-1233805288431898637Upon returning home I was elated when I breathed in the cold-crisp winter air that I had known during winter growing up, marveled at the culture and art in the Vancouver (YVR) airport, and enjoyed my first Tim Hortons coffee.

After the long journey home I spent a couple days in my home town of Port Alberni (a few hours north of Victoria), before returning to my uni city of Victoria. My needed transition period was very quick and something I wasn’t ready for. Suddenly I went from living a lifestyle that was free and flexible, with endless possibilities in embracing new experiences, and meeting some of the most exciting people with a huge variety of diverse backgrounds.

I was in a completely new environment. An environment that is more rigid, follows a syllabus, and requires a great deal of focus; however, this kind of environment also offers unique opportunities.

I began looking at my home environment with a new perspective and even curiosity on what things may have changed, and growing a greater awareness of what culture is like in Victoria. I was initially baffled when I had forgotten sales taxes aren’t included in the price, as I had gotten used to and enjoyed this system in Australia. I also had many other questions about the differences in transportation and nightlife.

While being immediately absorbed in this new culture, I had many important decisions to make. There were many things I’d sought out to accomplish for what I’ve decided will be the final semester of my degree. Through many demanding engagements this proved difficult in allowing me important time to reflect on what I’ve learned, as well as processing this unique transition.

Progressively, however, I have been adjusting. I’ve eagerly looked for opportunities to share stories of the incredible experiences of beauty and amazement I’ve engaged in, as well as applying the knowledge, skills, and life lessons that I had learned.

Now settling in, I’ve determined a balance I’m comfortable with, and achieving a flow in my goals. While adjusting, though, I remember wholeheartedly the experiences I’ve had, the people I’ve met. I have embraced all that I’ve learned from my time abroad. Even while walking around campus I mistakenly imagine others on campus for people I’ve met while travelling (wishful thinking I guess, haha).

It has been quite the surprising culture shock jumping from international life as a student and free traveller, to my final intensive semester of schooling filled with classes, deadlines and responsibilities. I miss all my international friends and the freedom of travelling, but, I am also very excited for this incredibly busy time. These next few months are filled with boundless opportunity and potential for learning and new experiences that will lead me in my journey over the next couple years as I begin making choices towards the goals I’ve set for myself.

For those who have or are experiencing culture shock, it may seem that others don’t seem to understand the significance of the important and life-changing experience you have just returned from. And it may be hard to cope with the sudden changes as you long for the freedom of travel and the relationships you built overseas. However, there can be greatness found in coming back home as well, and I am personally again falling in love with the life I am building for myself here in Victoria.

Here are some tips on overcoming culture shock of your own:

  • Acknowledge: Reflect on the significance of your new life experiences, what you’ve learned, and the change in environment.
  • Share: Talking about your experiences is an essential part of re-adjustment. Strive for opportunities to be involved and apply your new-found knowledge and skills learned while abroad.
  • Mindfulness: While we expect many things at home to be the same, things may change in our absence. Wee may sometimes perceive them for better or worse; however, just like water these changes are fluid.
  • Time: In some regard these adjustments can be difficult and it may seem odd adjusting to a new cultural setting, but our brains are phenomenal at adapting and you’ll soon become accustomed to your new environment.
  • Readjust: Use this time to build relationships (old + new), expand your interests, and grow your new worldly self.

Reverse culture shock can be challenging, but it is a time of changing, adapting, and reflecting on the world and all that we’ve learned. A truly beautiful thing. Remember, growth is never easy, but always worth it.

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