Home sweet home? – Reverse Culture Shock

Home sweet home? – Reverse Culture Shock

I have always thought I am crazy, or even suffering some mental problems, just because every time, I went back to Germany, my mother’s choice of country, and thus my maternal home, I had extreme trouble to re-adjust. I found coming home was tremendously more stressful and difficult than going abroad.

Since 2007, I have been “commuting” between China and Germany (and at times the UK). These nearly ten years, I have spent most of the time in China. Even though I am feeling a slight delayed “culture shock” (or as I call it “behaviour shock”) lately, I have never had such troubles to adapt to the Chinese life.

I know now that I went through many changes, re-examined my priorities, my values, and how I thought of myself. This greatly contributed to my difficulties of re-adjusting to life in my home country. I always felt frustrated, alienated and constant misunderstandings between me and my family did not help either to make me feel like “home” again.

And you would think after all those years and back and forth it would get better… Wrong. The better I integrated myself to become a citizen of China, its culture and lifestyle, the harder it was to readjust during every re-entry to my old life in Germany.

The only difference now is that I know it will happen. I know reverse culture shock will hit me, no matter how hard I try. The language adjustment, the lifestyle, the culture, everything is different.

I remember when I came back from China for the first time 2007, after one year stay, and announced surprised how clean and quiet Germany was, my mother looked at me as if I had gotten off a spaceship rather than a plane. All of a sudden, I noticed things I have never before. I got very critical of Germany, and sometimes it annoyed friends and family. Normally, when you come back from a long stay abroad, in an exotic country like China, people are interested in your experiences, at first. And I know how difficult it is too keep quiet about those adventures. However, I have had to learn (the hard way), we should be careful as to how much and in how much detail you want to share your experiences. People might think you sound pretentious or affected, plus for them life went on, and just because I came back from China, they don’t want to hear about it every single time.

I remember how hard it was to relate to others and find common ground. When you have been abroad for such a long time, your world view has changed. And sometimes, it makes me feel disconnected from family and friends who have stayed behind.

I am not good at giving any concrete tips on how to overcome reverse culture shock. It is just such a personal experience and differs greatly from person to person. The only think we all should keep in mind, is that you have to accept that you’ve changed, and things won’t be the same again. Ever.

Did you ever suffer from reverse culture shock? What do you do to overcome it?

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Anna Z. is a freelance illustrator and portrait artist in her late 20s, with a passion for Martial Arts and Chinese culture, and is the creator of Lost Panda, a blog to China and Art. Together with her husband, a Chinese national, she writes about daily life in rural China, focusing on cultural and social differences and the joys (and sometimes difficulties) as an intercultural couple. Apart from China related topics, she publishes her artwork, photography, art material reviews and tutorials to help more people discover their creative side. She is fluent in German, English and Mandarin Chinese.

15 thoughts on “Home sweet home? – Reverse Culture Shock

  1. Great post! I experience reverse culture shock every day.. After staying in China for 5-6 years and not really visiting Norway during those years, I now feel that Norway is such a “strange” country. I used to think it was this great place to live, but after staying abroad for 5-6 years and then coming back I realize how weird this country is and how strange the people act. I don’t think it is something that I can ever get used to, as I now feel like China is home. It’s been home for 5 years, and Norway has been a place I go for holidays. It should’ve been the other way around, but no. Don’t get me wrong, I sort of love my country, but there is a country and a culture that I love even more.. For me feeling like this, is making it really hard for me and ChenChen as well, as he really wants to settle down in Norway, but I wanna settle down in China. Feeling like this is like an never ending confusing circle..
    >.< haha

  2. I haven’t experiences a reverse culture shock yet, but it feels to have conversations with friends when every single sentence starts with “In China…”. Sometimes it’s just hard to avoid it, as my life for more than four years have been in China. What will be very interesting though, is to take my hubby to visit Finland next year, can’t wait to see what he likes.

    • You are really lucky to not have experienced it. Maybe it’s because you went back for just a few weeks. It is harder when you go back for a year or more and maybe don’t even know if you will be going back to china.
      I think the re-entry shock is very exhausting, and no not really understands who hasn’t went through it

  3. This is a very thoughtful post. I hope that despite all the difficulties you’re experiencing, you feel that you have ultimately changed for the better.

  4. Soon I will see how the reverse culture shock will hit me when I arrive tonight in Germany to actually live there once again after seven years in Finland, the country of silence.
    My wife always has a bad reverse culture shock when going back to china. Everything is too noisy,too dirty, too unpolite etc. she can’t imagine anymore to live again in china these days :)

  5. “The only think we all should keep in mind, is that you have to accept that you’ve changed, and things won’t be the same again. Ever.”

    Yessss. You nailed it on the head with this.

    My husband went to China with his company and he had huge culture shock. Even after two years living there, every single day he went through culture shock. We had to leave because he couldn’t adjust to the lifestyle there. It’s a beautiful place but it just wasn’t right for him. He truly felt foreign despite he knows the language. Now he is dealing with reverse culture shock. Same with me. :) At least now my husband is finally relaxing a bit. He’s happier.

    I understand feeling like you’re disconnected from everyone else. I have all these things I wanted to say but honestly, nobody really cares. I guess that is why I have a blog. :)

  6. This is such a great topic. Reverse culture shock is something that I think surprises many of us more than “normal” culture shock does.

    You mentioned that we change when we travel. Our worldview develops based on what we experienced. We can forget that this happens, you’re fight. But what we can also forget is the people we know and love back home have ALSO changed.

    I have also experienced the phenomenon of people having limited interest (or none at all) in my traveling stories. It can be disheartening because it feels like people don’t care about you. I think feeling sorry for yourself is one of the potential responses…but not the right one.

    What I try to do is actually the same thing that I did when trying to overcome culture shock in the foreign country – place the attention on the people around me. Instead of just telling people about my experiences while I was abroad, I’ll ask them about what’s been happening in THEIR life.

    I learn a lot when I take this approach. I can relate to people better when I know what’s been happening in their lives. And it makes reverse culture shock at least a little bit more manageable!

    • Chris, I like your attitude of giving your attention to the people around you when you come back home and asking them what’s been happening in their lives.

  7. This is an issue I often struggle with when returning to Sweden. Lately it’s only for visits, so I can play “tourist” over things that catch me by surprise or have seemingly changed (or maybe it’s me that has changed), but when I moved back once it was incredibly frustrating.
    I think one thing that helped was immediately searching for and getting involved with people who are interested in or from the culture you’ve been living in before returning “home”. Whether it’s just to practice the language or meet people who can relate to (or at least be remotely interested in!) your experiences in your adopted culture, it can help ease the journey.
    At the same time, rediscovering things that feel like home in your home culture also helps. Focusing on those things you missed while you were away in another country can help remind you what’s great about the place when you’re back.
    Kind of contradicting advice, but maybe striking a balance between the two? XD

    I don’t really have any good advice other than that, though I think Chris P hit the nail on the head about asking people about their lives. It gives you a better insight into what you’ve missed, as well as something else other than your own “mismatch” back home to focus on.

  8. To me, the only acceptable way of dealing with reverse culture shock is to think about the next time I am going away…and the strangest thing is that when I am not in Italy I really think my Country is beautiful and I close one eye on the defects, but when I come back they just hit me super hard and I don’t know what to do.

  9. When your friend returns from a trip and wants to show you hundreds of photos and talk all about HER trip, don’t you feel a little bored? Don’t you wonder why she’s not asking about your life? That must be the way it feels to people in our home countries when we return from living abroad if we want to talk about our experience too much.

    I think one difference between culture shock and reverse culture shock is that when one moves to a new country, she knows it will be strange to her. She comes with the attitude of a student, wanting to learn. She knows she will need to adjust to a new way of life, and she’s ready to do so, otherwise she wouldn’t have come.

    But when we return to our home country, we think we know it already. And all the things we used to take for granted, we begin to wonder about. We can see flaws we couldn’t see before and that other people around us don’t seem to notice. Now we know that there are other ways to do everything, and we’re tempted to become judgmental. Plus, if we’re planning to go back, we want to stay in love with the country we’re returning to.

    Either way, culture shock or reverse culture shock, if we want to be happy where we are, we’ll get over it before long.

  10. Very honest. I’m enjoying your blog a great deal. :) I’m not a very well traveled person so I find it incredibly interesting to hear the accounts of the experiences of those that are.

    • Thank you Kahlil,
      glad you enjoy it. One reason why I started this blog, was to take friends and family and who ever is interested on a journey. Not many people get the chance to experience the real China.

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