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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Bernard

4 Ways to Make the Most of Reverse Culture Shock

Maybe you’ve heard the term “reverse culture shock” or “re-entry” when returning back to the place you consider home after being abroad.

“Reverse Culture Shock is a term used to describe the feelings (of surprise, disorientation, confusion, etc.) experienced when people return to their home country and find they do not fit in as they used to. This may be due to a change in perspective, a decrease in excitement, an appreciation for and of different customs, or because during the travels the home country was idealized.”

-The Counseling & Psychological Services University of California

There are so many extraordinary resources to help people understand, recognize, and cope with re-entry and reverse culture shock. And I highly recommend doing some research to help you understand what it is and how to effectively walk through it.

However, for this blog post I want to bring a fresh perspective and something new to the conversation about navigating reverse culture shock.

How can you use the struggles and frustrations of re-entry to your advantage?

I have found the challenges of returning home can actually create opportunities to grow a deeper love for the international place you left, share your experiences with passion and impact, and ignite a desire to bring positive change.

Here are a few ways to make the most of reverse culture shock!

1. Keep the love growing

Food and language are two key pieces of a culture that hold depth and meaning beyond just the surface. Both of these are areas I recommend giving attention to in order to continue growing a love for the place you were living or traveling in and I'm sure you're missing now that you're away.

Find local places that make and serve the foods special to the culture you were in abroad. Sharing the food with people back home can also be a really great way to communicate your experiences from being overseas. Making a meal or dessert together with your loved ones also creates an engaging opportunity for you to share more about the culture, stories, and meaningful memories!

In addition to eating some of the international foods you enjoyed, continue using/learning/practicing the local language. I found this to be so special for me after living in Cambodia. I had spent months going to language school 5 days a week in Cambodia so it was strange and a little heart breaking not to use it all once I returned home.

I thought of a plan that I would allow me to use the language back in America. I found students at my university who were originally from Cambodia and willing to help me practice speaking the Khmer language. Every time I saw them on campus I was elated to greet them using the language.

My tips to continue growing your passion and love for the country and culture you left:

· Find places to eat the food special to you (bonus: learn to make it and share with others)

· Keep practicing the language whether that’s with people in person or digitally connect with people that can speak the language

2. Story-telling and personal reflection

Learning how to communicate and share my experiences from serving internationally felt overwhelming to me when I would return home. BUT this was also something that I wanted to learn and grow at doing.

I became frustrated with the question, “How was your trip?” and didn’t know how to accurately summarize my experience as a whole without just giving a simple and not insightful response, “It was great!”

People want to hear about your short-term trip or the years you spent living abroad and I'm sure you desire to share about it too. So my advice would be to prepare stories and answers that will impact people listening and make you feel content sharing meaningful memories from your international experiences.

I created a free roadmap to help people that want to share their stories from living or traveling overseas but feel stuck on how to do that and make it memorable with impact.

Here’s the link to “The Leader’s Roadmap to Lasting Impact: how to clearly communicate your international experiences in 5 easy steps”

My tips for communicating your stories or answering the question, “How was your trip?”:

· Pick a few stories that were meaningful to you and process through why you want to share them

· Be ready to share stories with people in 1 min/5 min/10 min/30 min

· Know which stories will connect with specific “audiences” best and think of bridges in your stories that will connect and resonate best with those listening

· Download your free roadmap to help you clearly communicate your international experiences in 5 easy steps HERE

3. Look for consistency

Whether you’re experiencing culture shock in a new location or dealing with reverse culture shock returning home, I’ve found that having something consistent through both of those is extremely beneficial.

To have something that is constant or familiar was crucial for me moving to Cambodia and when I came back home. Here are two things that created a sense of stability for me:

First, I journaled frequently throughout each week living in Cambodia and for months when I returned home. This helped me in really practical ways to process my emotions and what I was experiencing living abroad and coming back home to a place that was familiar yet so different at the same time.

The second consistent piece for me was doing something in Cambodia that I knew how to do and could jump right into…washing dishes. Ha yes, you read that right! I have always found doing the dishes by hand to be relaxing and it gives me a space to slow down and process my day. I did this both living in Cambodia and when I moved home. I was so surprised by how much peace it gave me to have a bit of consistency through both times very different from each other.

My tip to find a bit of consistency:

· Know yourself and explore some options to find something that creates consistency and familiarity for you

4. “Be the change you wish to see”

This famous quote applies to us as we return home and navigate reverse culture shock. When coming back home, it can be challenging to have a new perspective and see some things that maybe aren't done as well as you thought before traveling internationally. It's easy to see things in your home culture that you wish were different or that would change. I found this to be true when coming home after living in Cambodia and serving refugees in France.

Living in Cambodia during a mild drought forced me to consider how much water I use daily, and quite frankly how much water I waste. I’m so grateful for that uncomfortable wake up call. I realized and put into action simple ways to save water.

Returning home, I was shocked to see how normal it is to leave the water running or waste it in other ways that some Americans are just used to doing. Through example and gentle conversations I’ve had the opportunity to help others learn to save water in simple ways.

Another life-changing experience I had abroad was in Paris, France in 2018.

I went on a week long, service trip to help friends of mine come alongside of and assist refugees coming into Paris. The refugees came from parts of the world going through war and unrest. I heard story after story from these precious people in front of me as they shared about their experiences escaping their countries and running for their lives completely alone or with children and elderly parents. It absolutely broke my heart and I knew I had to continue helping when I got returned home.

I knew back home my city had a lot of refugees coming but I didn't hear much about the average American helping them or even just simply being their friend.

The desire to see change in America and bring awareness to help refugees was ignited in me. However, I learned the most effective way to help Americans back home understand and see the necessity to help refugees was best received through story-telling and leading by example.

I began volunteering with a local refugee agency shortly after coming home from Paris and have been humbled and incredibly blessed through the friendships with my refugee friends and the opportunity it has given to help other Americans get involved and help too.

What are you passionate about after traveling or living abroad that you'd like to see change back home?

My tips for becoming a change-maker and impacting others:

· Grow your passion and heart to see change and be part of it

· Take steps to practically make it happen…small steps are still movement in the right direction!

· Find people that are like-minded and will encourage you to keep pressing on and making a change

What's next?

So as you think through some of these ideas and others that come to mind, what's your next step? How can you use the challenges of returning home to your advantage? Then you can... share your experiences with others, make a lasting impact, continue growing your love of cultures, and so much more?


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