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!

x


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.

For those around you, send them this video so they can understand you better

Today’s post is for the people who surround you, your family, your friends, your coworkers, bosses or just people around you because they are also Reverse Culture Shock sufferers in the sense that they see that you have changed and they are a bit confused about it too. They may be a little surprised about how you are acting on those days in which everything is new and strange back home, so send this video to them. Let them know that if we have a support group is because although going back home seems easy, it sometimes is not, and that you are trying hard, using resources to get “back to normal” while integrating 2 or more cultures in you so that you can function properly. This is a re-adjustment period for you and for them too, it takes some time and we all could benefit from a little understanding from those around you. They are also sort of going through some shock because they have not seen you in a while and although you don’t notice it in you that much, you have changed. So please be understanding towards them too, they have not seen or lived what you have and they just want you to feel at home again.

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.

Focus on the bigger picture and don’t get caught in the small stuff

When you allow yourself to miss too much the little things from your host country (your favorite brand of cereal, the morning air…) you prevent yourself from appreciating the little things and the bigger things you have in front of you at home. Also when you focus too much on the little things that annoy you from back home (bad customer service, obnoxious people…) you are wasting energy by getting caught in the little hurdles, and making yourself more miserable. Doing these things could is a way of expressing your longing for your host country, but deep down you are using these things as excuses to allow yourself to feel bummed. However, it is just too easy to get caught on these “little trees” and feel stuck. Focusing instead on the big trees that of the forest you have in front of you and realize it is also made of little things that can be lovely, fun and interesting, even if they are from home, will make you feel better and more in tune with your surroundings. It is funny to think about how returnees we seem to transition much easily if we focus our energy on bigger trees. You would think it would be easier to transition with the little things, but human nature often proves picky and difficult when it is about the details and brave and wise when it is about the bigger stuff. So make a choice: are you going to be picky and difficult or are you going to be brave and wise? In other words: are you going to make it hard for you to re-adapt and feel miserable because of small stuff or are you going to step up to the challenge and feel empowered by it? I want to hear your thoughts about this! Email me at howtosurvivercs@gmail.com or comment below!

Re-adapt and substitute items in your Routine

When I got home to a big city after living in a runner’s dreamland in Boulder, Colorado, I stopped running. I know I shouldn’t, but I did. I looked for green spaces but couldn’t find any but the funny thing was that it was all in my head! This makes me feel really stupid, but I have to tell you: I happen to actually live right in front of a pretty big pine forest in urban Madrid, but I was so caught up in my memories of endless and wild spaces that I literally couldn’t see the great running space I had in front of me.  I didn’t run for months, adding misery to my RCS. Running has always been such a simple and quick way to relieve stress for me. Every time I would feel like running I would remind myself that I was not in Colorado anymore and stayed at home being super grumpy and unhappy. Until one day I grumpily tied my running shoes and started running there. What a discovery!

I am not going to lie, that pine forest is not a great, great open space packed with wildlife. It is the only single option I have here right next to my house, instead of the many options Colorado had on the menu for me, close to home and without driving, but hey, I started appreciating it a lot. I realized I am extremely lucky to live right next to it in a big city. It was very dirty and I started putting up posters with plastic bags attached asking for people’s help in cleaning it up and inadvertently I started getting more integrated in a cause that is important for me, now the neighbors pick up trash so efficiently that very little help is needed, and I get a much, much greener and nicer space to run in.

The point of this video and post is that our activities make our routines, and that you get to pick which ones you want. You can pick being grumpy and staying home eating your buggers in your misery or you can tie your shoelaces and go look for a place to do what you like.  When you move you change your environment and it is very likely that your activities and routines will change, but you have to make the best out of it either by re-adapting your routine using the available activities and resources that you have there or substituting activities that you can no longer do for others that you can do.