I wanted to write this post already a long, VERY long time ago. But somehow I couldn’t find the right words to describe the way I felt. Even though I feel now ready to write about it, I have to admit that it’s still harder than expected. The reverse culture shock hit me hard, which I never expected. But one step at a time.
Culture shock is probably something we expect when we go abroad.
But do we ever expect a reverse culture shock when we return “home”?
“Home” was never a place for me, home is a feeling.
After my time in Hong Kong ended, I had absolutely no idea what to do next in my life. Nothing seemed satisfactory after a second thought. I returned to my parents’ house to sort out myself and figure out what the hell I’m going to do with my life. A few months earlier I had quite certain plans regarding my return, but then they were crushed within weeks. Should I go for the first opportunity that opens up to go abroad again? “What are you doing next? How long are you going to stay here?” Too many thoughts and questions were driving me crazy.
The difference being home vs. being abroad couldn’t be bigger:
village life vs. life in one of the pulsate cities in Asia
At some point I was glad to be back to the live I was used to, I was not at the point where I wanted to think where to go next or what I wanted to do in my future
“How was your time in Asia?” A question that seems simple, was too hard to answer. Too many emotions and memories made it difficult to reply with more than “It was a good time”. I couldn’t look the first months (not weeks, MONTHS) at any past pictures. It was too painful.
Let’s be honest, nobody actually cares at home about your time abroad, right? Those who haven’t seen what you’ve seen won’t understand the sentimental feeling when you’re telling the story how you get lost and found an amazing restaurant. Everybody understands that moving abroad can be hard. But only few understand that coming back can be even harder.
When I went to uni, I visited my family and friends home occasionally. But it was never for a longer period. After years of living with flatmates moving home was very difficult. I felt like a stranger at my parents’ home. Many things changed there, new furniture, new kitchen appliances. Three chairs instead of four chairs in the kitchen. Every time I sat down with my sister in the kitchen I heard “You’re sitting on my chair”. Until today I haven’t figured out the seating plan in the kitchen – guess I’m too lazy to remember.
New seating arrangements were not the hardest thing to adapt to. It was the food. Craving for a good soup or dim sum and not being able to eat bread and home cooked meals was the new normal. Nobody could understand why I couldn’t eat a normal breakfast with rolls and jam, me included. Forcing myself to eat at least a bit resulted in feeling bloated and dizzy all day. Small steps were necessary to adjust again to eating things I was used to.
Another thing that I struggle with pretty much every time abroad is the water quality. Back home, I suddenly got dandruff as bad as never before. Suddenly, the goal was to find a shampoo that doesn’t result in a major dandruff disaster.
Visiting a German drug store after a long time was such a different experience. The first time I realized how much space I actually had to move around in the drug store (if you’ve been to a drug store in HK you know how narrow they are). Even hearing local dialect was so weird suddenly, after being used NOT to understand anything that was spoken around me abroad. It takes patience, effort and time to get used to the “old” life because it’s often a change for the people in your life too when you’re suddenly back. The advantage of being back home is that it’s easier to have a REAL conversation, about deeper things since some conversations are better in real life than via WhatsApp or Facebook.
Starting to blog helped me in some way to deal with it. I could write down my experiences and share it online. Those who are interested in it, can read my blog and those who are not interested are not forced to listen. It was some sort of self-therapy when nothing went right, blogging kept me excited. Reading online about reverse culture shock was also helpful to understand the reason why it was so difficult to “fit in again”.