Reverse Culture Shock is Gonna Get You

A TEFL guide to getting past reverse culture shock

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EVERYBODY deals with reverse culture shock. For some it’s a real jolt. For others it’s an amusing reminder that even home can feel like a foreign place. Either way, it’s 100% guaranteed. Here is our advice on what to expect and how to move past it.

The Truth about Story Time

You’ll have a thousand stories to tell: I was kayaking in the Borneo highlands, I was singing Wonderwall at a karaoke bar in Seoul, I was in Cusco drinking Pisco Sours… Your stories will be great, cocktail party gold, and nobody will want to hear them. Your friends and family will listen politely but they’ll be unfocused and distracted. You’ll be offended. You’ll think: This is a great story! My travel friends love this one! Why aren’t they getting it!?

Why would they?

For you those stories are full of sensory recall; the thin mountain air, the stale beer, the spookiness of the jungle at night. Your friends and family won’t have that. They’ll feel disconnected and they’ll struggle to participate in the conversation. Imagine what it’s like for them. Imagine trying to follow up an adventure in Borneo with a story about a trip to the cinema.

That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try. Your stories need to be told. But take your time. Reconnect by retelling shared stories. Then, slowly introduce your friends and family to the new stuff–leave them feeling inspired rather than intimidated.  

The Welcome Home Party Ends Early

Your first week or two will be filled with dinners, drinks and Yeah! You’re home! Then, everyone will go back to their normal lives. They have to. They have 9-5 jobs, kids, errands, etc. Not you. You’ll be in a weird limbo; looking for a job, looking for a place to live, looking for a foothold in your home country. You’ll feel out of place. It won’t last long, afterall, home is home. But do expect to drift.

Slow Down!

ESL destinations typically have a much slower pace of life. You’ll get used to relaxed, low-pressure living. Then, you’ll go home and everything will feel sped up. Everyone will have plans; life plans, social plans, plans about everything. And they’ll have a million questions about your plans. You’ll feel like a hippy that wandered into a corporate team building event. “I might…,” you’ll mumble. “I could…,” you’ll stammer.

How much!?

The low cost of living abroad is easy to get used to and difficult to shake. Cheap will become your new normal. When you get home, you’ll find yourself incredulously converting every expenditure. A coffee and a muffin costs what! Go out? I don’t even want to go outside. It’s expensive out there!

Reverse culture shock is unavoidable.
BUT…
The cure for reverse culture shock is fun.

Teaching English abroad will change you in a multitude of ways. You can’t revert back to who you were. And you won’t want to. The trick is finding space for the new you. Here’s how you do it.

Keep it Cheap and Minimalist

You’ll come home a budget-minded minimalist. Keep it that way. Avoid the temptation to buy a bunch of stuff. Live as cheaply as possible. You’ll be amazed at how much you don’t need even at home. Then, take all that money you’re saving and put it towards travel. Start a separate savings account if that helps. Give yourself the ability explore. Because once you’ve lived abroad travel isn’t a want, it’s a need.

Take Weekend Road Trips

Chances are there are a lot of interesting locations near where you live; places you always meant to visit but never found time for. Go! Explore the nearby places the same way you’d explore the far away places. Stay at hostels. Instagram your food. Go to museums. Take a bike tour. Stay out too late. Do it all!

Take Your Friends and Family Along for the Ride

If you really want your friends and family to understand the new you, show them. Invite people to join you on your adventures and insist that they do it your way. Leave the car at home; take the bus or the train instead. Pack light. Find the cheap eats. Start conversations with strangers. If they hesitate, explain your reasoning by telling them a story from your travels abroad. Why are we talking to strangers? I’ll give you a great example. I was scuba diving in Indonesia…” Once you’ve shaken them out of their routine, they’ll be ready to listen.

Welcome home. Enjoy the reverse culture shock. It’s good for you!

 

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