Since I began traveling, I’ve been fortunate enough to participate in long-term and short-term experiences abroad. That also means I’ve gone through culture shock and reverse culture shock several times.
During my first time out of the country, I experienced culture shock for the first time. Thankfully, I was with a wonderful summer study abroad program and had highly-trained individuals to support me as I tried to understand culture shock.
Upon returning home to Nashville, I remember being excited to be home, but also felt the shock to my system.
What was happening?
Why was my body reacting so strongly to the changes?
The culprit was reverse culture shock. 4 years and 16 countries later, I welcome the feelings of change. They remind me of how fortunate I am to live this life, and to see the beauty and the pain of the world we live in.
After leaving the U.S. and returning multiple times over the years, I’ve come to realize that two weeks here and a month there wasn’t enough to hold me over for a whole year.
I needed more. Those feelings of culture shock, adjustment, and then moving on to another place to go through it all over again make me feel alive.
Here are a few of the ways I allow myself to be enveloped by change–but not shocked by it:
Practice mindfulness and deep breathing.
This was key when I was abruptly sent home from the Peace Corps. I went from an environment of tranquility in a small community to the breakneck pace of one of the largest-growing cities in the USA.
Despite that city being my own hometown, it was unrecognizable with the constant construction. Reverse culture shock hit me like a truck. Not only was my entire life and career changing course, but the familiarity and comfort of home was officially no longer tied to a place. It was tied to people.
When I was severely struggling with the pain and the loss, reverse culture shock made life almost unbearable. I needed to practice mindfulness and deep breathing just to get through each day.
I encourage you to do the same if you’re struggling to adjust back to your home environment through reverse culture shock and change. Likewise, this is a useful skill when you’re in a new place and are experiencing culture shock away from home.
Take time to myself when I need it.
As an introvert and INFJ, social gatherings feel like work. It’s not that I don’t enjoy them, but rather I am drained by them as I enjoy being with others. Once I understood this about myself, largely from using mindfulness to learn about what I need, I then realized that nothing was wrong with needing to be alone.
It wasn’t bad. It was vital to my well-being.
As I experience culture shock and reverse culture shock, I turn to alone time when it gets to be too much. Taking this highly important step for myself allowed me to finally quit saying “yes” to everything, and grow as a person.
If you’re an extrovert, then I encourage you to also practice mindfulness. Learn what makes you feel good, and diminishes the shock to your body. Listen to the signals your body gives you. And if that means being around others, then that’s what it means! Be candid with your support system, and tell them if you need company as you transition.
Always be willing to learn.
At the end of the day, culture shock and reverse culture shock boil down to one thing: learning. You’re learning about your body, your mind, your spirit, your surroundings, and how all of the above affect your life.
That’s a lot to consider!
Aside from learning from myself, I also strive to learn more about the world and what home truly means to me. If I’m not willing to learn, then I’m the one missing out at the end of the day.
A renewed willingness to learn, and a teachable spirit, have allowed me to see the world in a whole new way. A day that I don’t learn is a bad one, in my book.
This vital piece has helped me see culture shock and reverse culture shock for what they really are: an opportunity to learn.
. . .
If you experience culture shock and reverse culture shock, I know it’s hard. It bends you past your limits, and imposes new ones. It makes you feel inadequate, anxious, even depressed.
I’ve been there.
But, culture shock and reverse culture shock don’t get to have the last word.
How will you beat the shocks to your system today?
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