Returning Home – Why Don’t I Have Reverse Culture Shock?

I anticipated that my return home to the U.S. for a few months after two years in the Middle East would be fraught with multiple cultural difficulties.

I wouldn’t understand the values and behaviors of Americans anymore, and they certainly wouldn’t understand me. Accustomed to speaking primarily to non-native English speakers, I would accidentally communicate at home using the most basic, ungrammatically correct English accompanied by hand gestures to get my points across. After years of buying goods in tiny shops carrying almost nothing, I would be amazed and bewildered to enter my first American grocery store, Wal-Mart and other mega-stores which we think of as normal, full of much more than everything anyone on earth could ever need.

In short, the phenomenon known as reverse culture shock – the unsettling experience of readjusting to one’s own culture after a lengthy absence – would be very jarring. I was certain of this.

But actually, I’m not experiencing much reverse culture shock at all.

Can reverse culture shock be easier than a springtime walk in the park? Apparently.

Although I am strongly feeling the massive cultural gaps that exist between the U.S. and Israel and Egypt – where I spent the majority of my time the past two years – adjusting to life back home really hasn’t been that hard for me.

Why? I really don’t know.

I can only think of two possibilities.

1. I’ve done this before. I’ve been away for two months at a time, giving me experience with readjusting to my own culture when I return. Yet two months thoroughly pales in comparison to two years.

2. I stayed in touch almost daily via email and often on Skype, for personal and business purposes, with folks in the U.S. But doesn’t everyone stay in touch with people back home?

Much has been written about reverse culture shock, but I haven’t found anyone else who’s written about not experiencing this phenomenon. I’ve been waiting for a moment, a day when I would be hit with it. After leaving behind the rest of the world behind and temporarily returning to my own home almost two weeks ago, I have to admit to myself – this just isn’t going to happen.

I know that other people planning on a return home after a lengthy overseas absence are also concerned about the difficulties of adjusting to life at home while coping with the reverse culture shock issue. My advice is don’t worry about it. Reverse culture shock apparently doesn’t affect everyone. Maybe you’ll be one of the travelers who won’t be impacted by this phenomenon at all :)

How about you? Tell me about your experiences with reverse culture shock. Did it hit you hard? Or was your return home easier than you’d anticipated?

10 Comments Post a Comment
  1. So glad you’re sharing this. I love how everyone experiences things differently. I paused for a moment when you called Wal-mart normal, haha, remembering my amazement seeing this and similar gigantic stores when I was in the US. Maybe I need to write a post about it. I’ve never been gone for as long as you have, yet when I returned it was a quick adjustment as well, and it surprised me. I noticed some differences and missed the places I left behind (still do), yet the adjustment was quick, and I, too, thought that perhaps it was because I kept in touch with people while I was gone. Plus, I have lived in one country my whole life, so its influence over me was still strong.
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  2. Sabina says:

    Ayelet, you really should write a post about Wal-Mart! Did you take photos? I’m sure it would be an englightening and funny look at what in America we – yes – do think of as absolutely normal. I hope you write one. :)

    I have actually in the past had more trouble readjusting than I’m currently having. A large part of this ease of transition must be experience. I’m noticing the differences too, but it’s not as “shocking” as it’s been before. I thought it would be much more so since I was gone for so long this time.

  3. Waegook Tom says:

    Hey Sabina – really interesting post. I’ve read plenty about people who’ve experienced culture shock (Over Yonderlust spring to mind as a recent example) but never about anyone who hasn’t experienced it, especially after a lengthy absence.

    I experienced slight culture shock after returning to the UK having completed a year in Korea, but didn’t experience any at all the most recent time I went home after being in Korea for 18 months. Maybe we do acclimatise to culture shock in a way?

    Anyhow, I’m glad that you’re not curled up on your bed quivering from the shock of going into a WalMart or endless re-runs of America’s Next Top Model (the last is a positive anyway).

  4. Sabina says:

    Haha – Tom, no, I’m certainly not curled up on my bed recovering from Wal-Mart (which I went to tonight for the first time in over two years, by the way). It’s very interesting to learn that after 18 months in Korea you didn’t suffer from reverse culture shock when you returned either. I think you must be right. We can, in fact, develop the ability to easily adjust to different cultures when we pass in and out of them with some frequency. This is a good thing!

  5. Steve says:

    This is an interesting subject to me because I would expect to get reverse culture shock after being away for that long. But like you said, you’ve experienced it before by being away for two months. Or it could be because you kept in contact through Skype.

    I experience a little reverse culture shock when I traveled through Asia for a month. It wasn’t all that bad, but i just noticed things about back home that I never did before because I had experienced totally different cultures. Weirdly I didn’t get it the next time I went abroad and that was for longer, two months. Perhaps you have just adjusted to a point to where you don’t get it anymore like someone who has become used to a hot shower.
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  6. Sabina says:

    Hi Steve – I think you’re right. I must have adjusted. It’s still always incredibly interesting to experience other cultures and it’s been interesting to reimmerse myself in my own since I’ve been home, but the “shock” value isn’t there. This is a good thing in that it’s quite easy to adjust but not good in that I don’t feel such an impactful strangeness of being back in my own culture – which is kind of a fun feeling.

  7. Rebecca says:

    Hi Sabina, I enjoyed this blog and can definitely relate to people who see their own culture from the outside.

    When I made a brief visit back to the U.S. after living in Iran for years, I hated the overy-bright lighting at our local supermarket and just stood there, looking at all the well-stocked shelves. I wasn’t even happy to see things I had missed, like peanut butter. I just stared at all of the packages and told my sister, “There are too many choices”. That about sums it up for me…I’ll take the disorganized, hit and miss offerings at the corner store back in my Tehran neighborhood over the cold excesses of a U.S. megastore.

  8. Sabina says:

    Hi, Rebecca. After being gone for so long, it is really strange seeing all the neverending offerings in our way-too-huge stores here in the U.S. We have everything! We really don’t need so much stuff, displayed so perfectly, but we think we do. “Cold excesses”? Yes, I guess they really are. We can get by on so much less, but will we ever?

  9. Jim W says:

    The hardest part for me was the initial shock of returning via of LAX airport. The TSA gave me a hard time, a guy bumped into me while I was looking at a flight schedule board and just about killed me with his glance, and someone snarkily cut in front of me in line with a grin of contempt. After 5 months in Asia I had forgotten just how rude and arrogant some Americans can be. After leaving LAX things got better, but I may never return to LA, even though I never went beyond the airport.
    Jim W recently posted..KC, Casey, and the Oregon CoastMy Profile

  10. Sabina says:

    Jim, I’m sorry to hear that. I’ve actually been really happy to see how friendly Americans are since I’ve been back. I must have taken it for granted before I left. Asians are so friendly too, though, I can see that coming back here after 5 months in Asia might be tough.

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