Reverse culture shock - myth or reality of travelling long term?

Coming home might not always be as heartwarming as you think...

Lucy Reeves
27th February 2023
Culture shock is a common experience - arriving in a new place, excited and ready to explore, only to feel completely disoriented and surprised by the new environment. It can take some time to get used to a new climate, food, language, surroundings. So why do we experience this again when returning home? Is reverse culture shock a real phenomenon, or is it just the come-down from the excitement of travelling?

When I returned home after living for nine months in Barcelona, I was surprised to come home and feel stuck, demotivated and out of place in my own hometown. I had been looking forward to coming home, and the first week was amazing: seeing my family, my friends and enjoying the comforts of living at home again. But then reality set in and I realised that life was the same as it had been before I’d left - the same routines, the same town, nothing new or too exciting. You’ve just had this incredible experience yet can’t put it into words for those around you and have to just get on with normal life again. 

This feeling is known as reverse culture shock and many people experience it after travelling for long periods or coming back from a year abroad studying. It’s an unexpected experience because you want coming home to be comforting and familiar, rather than feeling out of place and alienated.

Once you’ve experienced the excitement and thrill of the travel lifestyle, life back home is incomparable

From my experiences, feeling somewhat miserable when returning home is a reflection of the change of lifestyle you may have experienced abroad. Moving to a new place and feeling excited, meeting new people, identifying with the culture and enjoying a different pace of life are all the perks of travelling - returning home can feel like the opposite of this. I had been looking forward to coming home and having a break from the schedule of looking after three younger children and living in a chaotic family. But it felt like going back in time and losing all the personal development I’d experienced by being abroad, including a lot of confidence and enthusiasm.

Image Credit: Unsplash

Even now at university, I don’t think I’m the only one who gets a train home for the weekend when life’s getting stressful or overwhelming - I always expect that the familiarity of home is going to solve my problems and make me feel better. Although it’s always comforting to see my parents and relaxing not to have to think about cooking and washing up, ultimately I start to get this feeling again of being stuck. Once you’ve experienced the excitement and thrill of the travel lifestyle, life back home is incomparable. Now I’m always planning and looking forward to the next time I can get away again.

Is it worth travelling, knowing that coming home can give you negative emotions? Yes, absolutely! Travelling gives you so much opportunity to feel alive, to learn and to experience. So coming back may be difficult, your sense of ‘home’ changed, but you’d be missing out on so much to live without it.

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