How to Cope with Reverse Culture Shock | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

How to Cope with Reverse Culture Shock

Travel Writer Tara Kergon writes about the puzzling phenomenon of reverse culture shock and offers helpful advice on how to cope with it

Despite the inundation of information on the challenges of a year abroad, the return home afterwards brought to light a puzzling phenomenon about which nobody thought to warn me: reverse culture shock. Of course, the initial focus should be (and was) on how to adjust to a life away from England, but, having grown accustomed to the ways of a foreign country, it’s almost harder to then return and try to readjust. While everything is familiar, while British living may have been longed for, life continues while you are away and everything is then just different enough to be a little disorienting. Perhaps this year it is more difficult due to the tumultuous issues of politics and terror, or perhaps it is hitting me harder simply because I was away for twelve months. Either way, reverse culture shock is real. Personally I panicked when given a handful of new currency because it looked, frankly, like Monopoly money; I cannot quite lower my guard enough to let my bag out of my line of vision in case of theft, and apparently, I cannot speak English without forgetting words or accidentally using Spanish ones.


If you were anything like me, you spent many an hour abroad pining for the essences of British life: a decent cuppa, Sunday roast, and personal space. So go out and enjoy them! Eat six tins of baked beans, go to the pub every night for a week and rejoice in superior British swear words. Now is the time to gratuitously experience everything you have been missing about England and once again revel in the joys of fry-ups and politeness. The only word of caution: don’t overdo it in the first few weeks and find yourself falling flat, sitting on your sofa with a ticked-off to do list and no further plans, longing for the adventures of your foreign life.


The entire point of a year abroad is to absorb foreign customs and integrate into a different style of life, so all that adjustment and acclimatising means you will inevitably have fallen in love with elements of it. Nobody said you have to abandon that life at the border, so bring the best of your year abroad back home with you! Maybe you fell for the local cuisine or developed a taste for museums, maybe you started a new hobby or made incredible friends – whatever it may be, keep it up and in a way the experience stays alive and current. After a year in Argentina, I’ll still be drinking mate instead of coffee sometimes and use voice notes for long messages that I just do not want to type. And I’ll be speaking Spanish as often as possible!


Returning from an adventure always carries with it an intrinsic sadness, a slightly flat feeling that settles in your chest when you return to your old life, and it would be easy to fall victim to it. One of the most important things to remember is that while one venture is over, there will always be new and incredible experiences. Life only becomes dull if you let it. Set your sights on upcoming events, whether it’s graduating and finally adding that line to your CV, working towards your career or applying for further education, or simply exploring your own country. In a nutshell: focus on the good to come, rather than pining for the good that has passed.


When arriving in your new country a year ago nobody, least of all you, expected you to slot into the life there within a few days, and given the length of time and level of immersion of that year it would be ridiculous to expect to simply slip back into English life overnight. While everything is familiar, it isn’t current to your situation. The money, the language and the way of life are all different to how you have been living, and home has evolved over the course of a year away. Even though you may find yourself instinctively walking familiar routes or slipping into the habits of English life, give yourself at least a few weeks to readjust. I’m still confused by the new five-pound note, and struggling to be as punctual as the British expect, as well as finding it difficult to speak solely English.


Whilst away the greatest inducement of homesickness will always be glorifying England and wasting time wishing to be back, so upon your return the opposite is true – the best way to create and prolong the missing of your year abroad is to romanticise it. Nostalgia is not necessarily the enemy; the year abroad is one of the greatest experiences of your life, but it wasn’t perfect and it shouldn’t be put on a mental pedestal. Remember the things that didn’t work as well your favourite moments, and count it all as an experience that will always be with you. Besides, everywhere in the world is just an aeroplane ride away so there is always the chance to go back - if you truly found your place in the world there is even the possibility of moving abroad for good.



30th August 2017 at 9:00 am

Last Updated

29th August 2017 at 9:19 pm

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Tara Kergon