Many expats move abroad for only a few years and then return to their home country, usually looking forward to reconnecting with friends and family. Many of these expats unfortunately find that time hasn’t stood still since they left and experience reverse culture shock.
How to cope with reverse culture shock
Navigating the first world and third world divide
After spending even a year abroad, you may find your community and life back home very different from your memories and difficult to adjust to. Many people relate to the ‘difficult’ adjustments that have to be made if you are moving from a first world country back to a third world one – where the cosmopolitan and streamlined infrastructure you’ve been used to in your expat country is not in place.
However, you may be surprised to discover there is equally a period of adjustment needed if you are moving back from a more laidback culture to the fast pace of one of the world’s leading cities. Traffic jams, deadlines and late working hours can all take time to get used to and your expected feeling of relief may quickly turn to disorientation and disappointment.
Maintain contact with your expat country
One of the ways you can help alleviate the shock of the differences between your two countries is by staying in contact with your expat country. Your expat friends will relate to and understand any feelings of anxiety you may have about not fitting in back home. Just try and explain the long Hong Kong working day to someone in Australia, where family life is prioritised and most people end the working day at 5 pm, and you’ll have a very sympathetic audience.
Prepare your friends and family for your change
Your friends and family will be very excited to see you, but they’ll be surprised by any changes you have gone through – especially if you have new ‘criticisms’ of your home country. Try and prepare them for the change you have gone through and how working abroad has exposed you to new ways of doing things. By discussing what you have experienced with them, prior to your arrival, they will understand more about where you are ‘coming from’ and support you with your transition.
Do some self-reflection
Being able to live abroad, even for just a short period is a wonderful opportunity. Take some time to do some self-reflection about the new culture and ideas you have been exposed to – and what you wish to retain and what you wish to chalk up to ‘experience’.
Your new way of looking at life and work can help propel change in your company and even your family back home and rejuvenate old ways of doing things. In fact, according to a 2016 survey, 37% of companies surveyed indicated that their repatriated employees increased their aptitude to conduct cross-border business and 43% of respondents indicated that ‘repats’ were more likely to be future leaders in the company.
Don’t settle back into a rut
Just because you are back home, doesn’t mean you have to lose contact with your expat country. Access news and magazines online. Speak to the friends you have made on Skype. If you learnt a new language – do your best to practice it and retain it. Every experience you had as an expat is an invaluable one – and you and everyone back in your home country will be richer for it.