(Or, How to deal with reverse culture shock)
Long-term travel is awesome. But for better or worse, at some point you’ll almost certainly have to return home, for a short visit or for good. And how do you deal with homecoming?
First of all, why will you have to deal with homecoming at all? It’s HOME, right? You already understand how it works; no nasty surprises in your food bowl or confusion over how the public transport system works. Except that during your absence, things have probably changed. Or you have, and things that used to be normal now seem horribly foreign.
You may have heard of culture shock, which is a psychological disorder people face when adapting to life in a new country or culture. Equally a challenge, though, is reverse culture shock: the struggle to cope with your own home culture on re-entry. You might not feel any of the symptoms of reverse culture shock (irritation, frustration, anger, loneliness), but if you do, you’re not alone.
1. Ease into it
Instead of jumping straight back into your regular routine on arrival in your home country, take a few days out. We often fly into Christchurch (in the South Island of New Zealand) rather than our home city of Auckland (in the North Island) and spend some time acclimatising to Kiwi culture before going home. This means that we can get used to general changes in New Zealand before confronting how our own city and its inhabitants has altered in our absence.
2. Be interested in others
When you’ve just had an amazing experience, there’s a tendency to want to talk about it a lot — I’m certainly guilty of this! But your friends and family have also had interesting experiences while you were away; ask about their lives before talking about your own. Unfortunately, not everyone is going to want to hear about your travels, and I’m sure you don’t want to be the kind of person who bores everyone around them with their stories of “when I was on my trip…” (Disclosure: I have been that person. I don’t want to be that person again.) A more graceful way to talk about your journey is to drop short anecdotes into normal conversation — if you’re talking about food, you could mention that great street food you had in Malaysia, for example.
Another way to keep the conversation moving is to prepare a 15-30-second summary of your trip, which you can roll out when people ask where you’ve been for the last little while. If they’re interested, they’ll ask more questions; if not, the conversation can move on.
3. Don’t gripe
When we came back to New Zealand this year, food prices had risen considerably. Add this to the cheap cost of living we’d enjoyed in Spain, Berlin, and the Balkans, and we were just about blown over backwards in surprise. Which meant we talked about it. Unfortunately, some of the people we spoke to thought that we were personally insulting New Zealand in general, and what we thought of as a verbal processing of an unexpected challenge was interpreted as griping. Well, I suppose it was griping, really. It certainly didn’t win us any friends, and we learned to shut up about the whole “price-of-food” issue.
If you come across some unexpected (and unwelcome) changes on your return, you’re probably safe to mention it once or twice before people think you’re fixated on the negative. Instead, talk to your travel companion if you had one, or find a sympathetic friend (from your travels if possible) and let it all out.
If you’ve returned home from a long trip, what did you do that made things easier?