Happy Holidays, Reverse Culture Shock style

Hi there! It’s the holidays!

If normally a high percentage of people could kill me with their looks right now, Reverse Culture Shock sufferers would certainly beat me to a pulp. I can perfectly understand that this year you might no be very excited about the holiday season, and rightfully so! You might be wishing you could be at your host country celebrating with your loved ones from there, and now, back “home” you could be feeling quite out of place. After all, people spend obnoxious amounts of money and eat unhealthy amounts of food, shoppers cram the streets and horrid music drills your ears.

You are not alone my RCS friend, please know that it is totally fine and normal. However I still very, very, very much want you to have a good end of the year with your home country, your family and friends, especially if your re-landing was rough, and that’s why I am posting about how you can do it. Unbelievably it can actually be done! Here are some ideas:

1) If you are missing the traditions from your host country, do them at home yourself! Contact an expat group from your host country and make sure you celebrate their way with them. So what if the neighbors look at you in amazement because you are doing things differently? This year you get to do it your own funky way. Yeah, you are cool like that.

2) Cook a typical festive dish or a whole meal from your host country and have everybody taste it. You can do the thing the way it is done abroad or tweak it a bit to mesh the ingredients and backgrounds of the foods into your own culinary creation. You can have turkey curry, or candied durian or lychees, a different version of panettone.

3) Share a tradition or a typical holiday story with your special ones back home. Explain beforehand that this is important to you and that you expect some attention towards your way of seeing the holiday season so they don’t crush you with a culturally insensitive question or comment.

4) Mix your celebration cultural background and your holiday plans. In other words, they are YOUR holidays, pick what you like from whatever cultures and countries you choose and have them ways that make sense and are special to you! Some ideas:

– Organize a Festival of Ligths (Diwali) mixed with a Saint Lucy celebration or an end of the year glow stick party.

– Plant a Christmas tree in the middle of the beach and decorate it with typical winter sweets from your host country.

– Make a gingerbread pagoda, igloo or skyscrapper, whatever type of building you miss.

– Eat 12 olives, raspberries or pieces of durian instead of the traditional 12 Spanish grapes to greet the New Year.

The possibilities are endless! Overall be brave and patient, it WILL make you feel better to have your own way of celebrating integrated into everybody’s and bringing something cool into your home country celebrations instead of just feeling like a goose who’s being force-fed everybody else’s holidays.  You are back, you don’t have to do what everybody else is doing, as a matter of fact we want to see what you are doing these days, SEND YOUR IDEAS AND PHOTOS and we will SHARE them with other repatriates on the blog so that we all can have a very happy holiday season!

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How to deal with emotional overload when experiencing Reverse Culture Shock

Repatriates not only experience information overload, but also emotional overload. It is only normal that you are getting tons of emotional input and are getting tons of emotional reactions to all the new changes in your life as a result. They don’t call it Reverse Culture Shock for no reason, it is certainly a shock! Perfectly rational people can easily turn into drama queens when this happens, so if you are a bit emotional already by nature this can be such a roller coaster. Remember: it is ok! All your life, all the things and places and people around you have just changed almost all of a sudden, so it is to be expected to feel a bit overwhelmed at times. Too much change all at the same time can also get you into “freeze” mode, so here’s what you can do about emotional overload so it doesn’t control you.

  First: It is you who controls your situation in most cases despite your new circumstances. Many times we expats, who have dealt with much more difficult and complex situations abroad feel confused by the way things happen at home and we just can’t seem to connect the dots because we are missing one or two and that can generate a big, big and frustrating amount of emotions (not the nice kind, usually). Sadness, anger, irritability, feeling useless… all those pesky Reverse Culture Shock symptoms come up. Breathe deeply. You are above this. You can do it. You have done much more than this before, and you will laugh about this sometime in the near future.

Second: You do not need to deal with everything at the same time. Remember how you adjusted abroad? You didn’t arrive and with a snap of your fingers become a perfectly adjusted member of that society, did you? You took it one thing at a time. I know, since you are “at home” you feel like you should be able to just fit there perfectly, but that rarely happens when you have lived abroad for an extended amount of time. Relax. You need to develop that kind of mindset again, like you are in a foreign land again. Approach it like “I am going to focus my effort adjusting in this aspect this week, and then on that one next week”, and that is how you can do it much more efficiently than spilling all over trying to get everything done at the same time.  

Third: Take a break when the emotions are a bit too much, creating some space and distance. A buffer area or time will give you some perspective and the ability to collect yourself much better instead of just trying to do so while you are not ready. If you try to do things when you are unprepared for them you will be wasting energy and getting tired and washed away, controlled by all this emotional stimuli. Sometimes however, it feels good to let that bull take you on an intense bull ride, and it might just be what you need to shake your emotions off. Keep in mind though that those professional bull riders can usually manage to get about 9 seconds rides. Get your emotional fix and go back to normal, otherwise you risk getting drained or caught into a negativity spiral, and you know you need your energy to take on the re-adaptation challenge you are facing.

Save energy: know the difference between what you can change and what you can’t

There is a saying that goes something similar to this:

“Give me the courage to deal with the things I can change, the serenity to accept the things I can’t change and the wisdom to know the difference between those two.”

In other words, try not to go crazy or obsess about things you can’t do anything about, there is no point and you will only waste your valuable energy in them when you should have a much clearer plan defined and putting that energy into it. Next time that you go like “AAARGH!” or “I can’t do this!” ask yourself in which two of the categories it falls, and then decide if you can do something about it or you can just kick back and relax about it.

There is also that other saying that goes something like this:

“Don’t worry. If there is something you can do about it, do it, and if there is nothing to do about it, don’t do anything. But either way, do not worry. Worry is useless.”

I say whoever said that probably never had to go through Reverse Culture Shock. Or maybe he or she did and that is where that saying comes from, from a very wise RCS survivor. In any case I find it to be terrific advice and I hope you can use it and make your life easier.

If it is “back home”, why is it so hard?

Some people naturally thrive when change comes to them. They look forward to it, they feel invigorated by it. They love learning new languages, survival techniques, cooking styles and social mannerisms. However, many of these natural thrivers with fantastic adaptative skills are shocked when they go home, often the hardest environmental challenge to get adapted to. Why does this happen? This time it is not an adaptation process, it is a re-adaptation one, and all those skills that were used to expand and explore are not of that much use when they go to a land they know very well: their homeland.

At home you already know the language, the way things work there, the food, the social mannerisms…. There is less excitement and novelty and not so much to adapt to. But there is sure plenty of things to re-adapt to. Often intrepid entrepreneurs and business people who attain great goals abroad despite all odds and inconveniences find that they are not motivated to achieve the same results back home. Mothers who successfully raise children in very foreign land find it difficult to do so “at home” and students who overcome every hurdle away from home become demotivated when they return to their home countries.

“Oh no! This time we have to go HOME!!!”

People become different people while they are abroad. In many cases things are way harder to accomplish there since not so much family, friend or government support is available, so people sort of become goal oriented warriors who once “go home” can quickly become unsatisfied and frustrated. Their universe has expanded and now the idea of going back to normal feels very unappealing. They have developed and trained all those fabulous skills that now at home can’t be put to use, even so to the point that part of themselves might on some level feel sort of useless. Everything seems too different to them, and depending how far they got on their own personal life training abroad they might not be able to do that well once they are back home, where everything was supposed to be simpler and easier.

A re-adaptation process usually deals more with internal forces and circumstances than with external ones. If you are going home you need a different strategy than the one you used to adapt abroad.

My own case of Reverse Culture Shock

The cover frame describes my reaction to Reverse Culture Shock!

Here are other people’s stories to their own experiences about Reverse Culture Shock and what it was like for them:

Ava Apollo describes on her travel blog how it was going back to Southern California after living in Taipei, Jill Wrenn talks about life back in Atlanta after living in the UK for 7 years, Olena and Qian, both from VOA’s Student Union dish about differences between the US and their home countries: Ukraine and China.

I want to know, what was it like for you to go back home? What were your main issues? Send me an email at howtosurvivercs@gmail.com and tell me!

How to avoid feeling overwhelmed when you go back home

Here is a short video on how to stop circling thoughts in our heads and get down to re-adaptation business! With so many things going on at the same time and so many things to face and start doing t is perfectly normal that you feel overwhelmed. If you are a returnees who is suffering from RCS you probably don’t feel very energetic or positive and then it is easy for the things in your to do list just keep circling and circling in your head, getting amplified with every spin. The more time it goes by without them getting done the more stressed you feel, and you could get into a spiral of not doing-worry-not doing.

Stop, take a minute right now to calm down, grab a planner and start getting those typical 5 to 9 issues that are bothering you (you know, finding a school for the kids or a nanny, a suitable place to live in, getting a car or a new job, finding a vet for your pet, getting all the paperwork done…) out of your head and in paper or in an electronic planner (Google Calendar and Doit are fantastic!) or just get a paper planner if you are more comfortable with it. Who said going home wasn’t a trip? Moleskine does planners apart from the classic travel notebooks to keep you classy back home too. Get excited about your planner, it allows you to organize your life the way you want to!

If you have kids or a significant other who is going through re-adaptation, get them organizers, you will be amazed how this simple tool can enormously help you and them when feeling RCS anxiety. If you are still at your host country start putting everything down and it will give you a sense of purpose and continuity in time without much of a disruption even before you get there, and if you are already home your planner can unfreeze you and put you into motion with clear objectives and deadlines.

Once you start putting everything down you will see that it will all start taking shape in your head and that things are actually much more manageable than you thought. You will realize that some of your to do things are much easier to solve than you thought, that others will take care of themselves, or that maybe you do not need to take care of some of them for now. As you start getting things done everything around you will start falling into place and you will be much more confident and relaxed.

You are not ready to go until you are ready to stay and why RCS is in many ways a lot about you and not so much about culture

Many returnees ask themselves “Why is that important to re-adapt back home if I plan on leaving anyways?”. Considering that re-adapting requires energy and intention this is a very fair question. The answer is that you are not ready to go until you are ready to stay. Here’s why:

I can’t blame you for wanting to leave fast because you feel unable to cope with stress, I have been tempted to do so many times myself. But if you leave because you can’t address the issues that are bothering you, you are letting them win, you are making an escape. You might jump on a plane that will take you very far away phisically, but inside you did not go anywhere, the issues are still there with you, and they might try to haunt you away or at home.

How annoying! Let’s take care of them first.

There are things back at home that you might need to embrace before you can leave at peace with yourself. Some voids might need to be filled, some friendships might have to be mended, some personal or professional issues must be taken care of. Use this priceless opportunity to do your homework back home and you will learn a lot about yourself. Travel is about learning and growing, so don’t look the other way just because you are home! Once you find your issues do what feels right about them: integrate them in you or simply let go of them. It really doesn’t matter if you are leaving or staying, what matters is that you are at ease about those issues. If you are staying you will re-adapt back home by solving those problems, and if you are leaving you will leave with valuable peace of mind once you have re-adapted and you feel like you leave because you want to, not because you have to.

Regardless of where you are now or what your plans are, my advice is to spend the time and energy necessary to feel at ease and at peace back home. Whether you jump into that plane or decide to stay it will all feel much, much better. You will feel warm, fuzzy and happy inside. So tie your boot laces and tread inside to find your issues, roll in their mud, wrestle them, breathe them, absorb your mother culture again, make it yours and then let go. Then a beautiful moment will come: you will know that you have won, that your issues could not defeat you, that you had more spirit than they did and that now you are above them. You will then be able to tell other travelers and expats about your experience. You will walk taller. You will know yourself better. You will have that unique kind of confidence that you make yours after having won at home.

Win at home before leaving or staying, but always win first. Make your home country yours again before staying and before leaving.