Back To Lotus Land: Can You Say Reverse Culture Shock?
Sep 2nd, 2012
There have been well-documented studies available on the effects of culture shock while transitioning to a new city, country or continent. But what happens when you move abroad, and then come back?
Having travelled often and lived in several cities abroad, I am no stranger to the effects of jet-lag after a long flight from one continent to the next, and so had anticipated feeling out-of-sorts and fuzzy on my return for a time. However, the joy at rediscovering my favourite foods, products and businesses, as impactful as it was, slowly dissipated upon the realization that I was returning to a different kind of ‘home’. It felt rather like a parallel universe, wherein everything seemed the same, but yet was coloured by a different sort of hue. Although I realized that the effects of a highly busy and stressful year spent in academia would alter my perception of certain things I was experiencing, I was not prepared for the jolt of difference I now faced. I was in for a surprise. A kind of ‘shock’ in fact, or what’s known as ‘reverse culture shock’.
Favourite restaurants were now replaced with other businesses; three live music venues had been closed in my absence, and a near-by large grocery store, all but decimated. How could the landscape be so vastly different in the space of one year? Was it not enough that loved ones and colleagues dared to move on, happily creating their lives, engaging in marriages, new additions (whether furry or slick), new relationships, or even the endings of such? But how could the entire city itself, that place I once called ‘home’, suddenly seem so altered and alien as the place I had just returned from?
Upon disembarking at Vancouver International airport, the space and purity of the air was the first thing that assailed my senses. It was a bright and sunny day, and the air seemed almost overly oxygenated, the sky a sharp and brilliant blue, with no obstruction of buildings or billboards. London’s vibrant cacophony faded in the dazzling silence of the sunny Vancouver day. Gone were the throngs of rushing inhabitants, smokers smoking blithely as they walked. Memories of the over-stuffed bins replaced here, with neatly rowed forest green or marine blue containers depicting images of glass, bottles or trash encouraging thoughtful and sustainable disposals of one’s refuse.
The sense of politeness had abated as well, and I was snarled at for walking on the wrong side of the sidewalk, something that I had never experienced in the UK, even as I often did tend to walk to the right, the way I was used to driving at home. This was an unconscious rhythm I only realized after much time in London. Yet there, pedestrians generously and willingly moved to one side in passing more often than not, whilst here, you’d better dodge first or risk a knock.
Every community has its own unique rhythm and set of norms, whether they are blatantly displayed or cryptically implied, and getting used to such can be a challenge. Remembering the ‘ways it used to be’ can also be a trial, particularly if there are new ‘rules’ in place that aren’t always obvious.
Going Back To The Future: Readjusting To Your Home Town
The following tips are suggestions that may aid in reintegrating back to the past, in the present - that is, getting rid of reverse culture shock.
The first thing you need to do is rest and breathe. There is much to assimilate, not only when one is away from home, but in the very act of processing the past year where it has literally been a struggle to operate in a city or country where you are learning everything as if for the first time. Even as you may have adopted the previous cultures norms, it tends to take more out of a person than is fully realized either during or after the undertaking of it.
Organize yourself, slowly.
This is the unpacking stage. Reclaiming your space and creating a sanctuary with which to relax and breathe again is one of the first steps in becoming more grounded.
You are in a new city! It may not be brand new, or even polished, but it has changed and grown, just as you have. This is a good time to navigate through your neighborhood and community and see the sights as if indeed from new eyes, accepting and open to the changes around you. You might even find a new favourite restaurant or find that your old haunt has been renovated to an even better establishment.
You developed survival skills while you were away whether you were conscious of it or not, and they will do you well now. Whether it’s finding a near-by gym, gathering favourite foods (if you can find where the grocery store went), starting some yoga classes, meditation or revisiting a favorite coffee shop, this is a good time to take respite between the periods of adjustment you have been engaged with, and prepare you to handle the next ones with a stronger sense of clarity and calm.
Network with the newbies.
It may seem ironic, but hearing the lovely variety of accents from others who are even more bewildered than you are, can create a sense of camaraderie and familiarity. This is especially so if you have returned from a place with a higher populace than your current home. I loved the diversity that was rampant in the UK and other parts of Europe, and though it exists here in Vancouver, it is not quite as up-front as it may be in other countries. There is a soothing aspect to the knowledge that Vancouver is developing a growing expat community which can only add to the flavour and culture of an already dynamic city.
Remember, and pay it forward.
Eventually, things stop tilting to the left (or the right, if you’re in a country that drives or walks that way) and you’re feeling a bit more on terra firma, even if it’s still more like the moon than your home town. When this occurs, remember that there are others who are starting new lives here, and may benefit from your input, guidance, or just a friendly face. I can’t express the level of gratitude and relief I felt if I was lost somewhere and someone took the time to forgive my ignorance that they don’t have ‘blocks’ in London, and explain the best way to get to where I wanted to go. You are in that enviable position of knowing how things work; the cultural norms and values (let alone having the proper electrical conduits), as well as re-experiencing the wonder of somewhat new or altered surroundings, which will be of great benefit to others in this emergent global economy.
So welcome back to Vancouver, you’re going to love it here!!
Have you ever experienced reverse culture shock in Vancouver or abroad? Please share your stories with us or add your comments below!
Leslie is a Health and Wellness counselor, motivational speaker, and founder of Balancing-Green
. She teaches MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) and meditation courses in Vancouver and abroad.
Contact her at: email@example.com