The Displaced Nation

A home for international creatives

REVERSE CULTURE SHOCK TOOLBOX: Expats, what kinds of tools do you need if you decide to repatriate?

Reverse Culture Shock RosesTransitions enthusiast H.E. Rybol is already having a constructive 2016: she is about to publish a second book, on reverse culture shock.

Reverse Culture Shock_coverHello, Displaced Nationers! This month, I have a very special preview for you! On March 30th, my book Reverse Culture Shock will be released! Unlike Culture Shock: A Practical Guide, this is not a how-to book. It’s a collection of adapted blog posts including some previously unpublished material.

Dealing with reverse culture shock is a continuously evolving process that requires constant adjustments, reflection and introspection. This collection is meant to bring you food for thought and give you a little nudge to ease a difficult transition.

Here’s an adapted excerpt, just for you… Even if you’re currently an expat, I hope you enjoy! Someday you, too, may face this phenomenon, if you decide to repatriate.

* * *

When I moved back from California to Europe, I spent the summer pruning trees, rosebushes and anything else I could find. It provided comfort in a way nothing else did. I got to be outdoors, didn’t have to interact, nobody asked me any questions or commented on how ‘American’ I sounded. I could just be. Quietly, peacefully.

What I needed the most was a set of gardening tools.

Yep, reverse culture shock was a doozy.

Here’s the thing about reverse culture shock: everything feels familiar and completely different at the same time. And no matter how hard you try to reconcile everything, it makes you feel like a puzzle put together wrong. Everything sort of fits but doesn’t.

Of course, intellectually, you reason with yourself. Your brain explains that both you and the place have changed, so what you’re feeling is natural. Meanwhile your insides are screaming bloody murder. That’s what it was like for me, anyway.

There is an aspect of mourning involved. You have to let go of the notion of home as a physical or geographical place (if that’s what it was to begin with) and of the idea that operating within a comfort zone is how things should be. You need to redefine what home and comfort mean to you.

And here’s the biggie: letting go of who you were before you left to incorporate the person you became while you were gone and see how both now fit into a new identity within that familiar environment that feels alien. It’s mind-boggling and the whole thing is a process.

The puzzle of home

Europe had changed…and I’d changed as well.

When I got back from the US, Europe had changed: there was a new currency (hello, Euro!), there were new streets, Starbucks and Subways had sprouted up all over the place, the use of language had changed, to name a few. For example, “Zähflüssiger Verkehr” had become “stop and go” and my French-speaking friends and colleagues said things like “c’est fun!”

Of course, I had changed as well. Not only in my eyes but also in the eyes of other people who kept reminding me that I wasn’t quite European anymore with a steady refrain of “You’re SO American!”

  • Accent: I had an American accent and naturally, people who knew me before I lived in America kept saying “you sound so American.” I understand the reaction, of course, but the effect was one of alienation all the same. What I heard was “you don’t sound European”. Which was fine too, except that I was in Europe trying to figure out how to fit back in after four years of being away.
  • Language: I couldn’t express myself the way I wanted to in my native languages, which can feel alarming. People kept correcting me, pointing out that I was speaking weirdly, which had a distancing effect on me and on them as well. I wasn’t the way they remembered and these new aspects of me were disconcerting for them.
  • Laugh: I was told I had an American laugh, whatever that means.
  • Attitude/ways of thinking/seeing things: I had developed a new approach and attitude towards problem solving, thinking and managing everyday life. That attitude was also pointed out to me as being American. But it wasn’t something I could shake, so living with that perspective in Europe can be alienating on multiple levels.

I spent four years becoming aware of my “Europeanness” to come back to a Europe that felt alien to me and where people kept and still keep pointing out my “Americanness”.

I’ve come to accept that I’m just in between. Someone once said to me that it’s like sitting on a fence: you can see both sides but that fence just isn’t very comfortable.

Over time though, we get comfortable being uncomfortable. That’s the good news!
Just in between

* * *

Readers who are or have been repats, hopefully this has you “fixed” until next month, when I’ll be back with one of my culture shock interviews. In future I plan to interview some repatriates as well.

Until then, here’s to discomfort! Cheers! Prost! Santé!

H.E. Rybol is a TCK and the author of Culture Shock: A Practical Guide and Culture Shock Toolbox and the soon-to-be-released Reverse Culture Shock. She loves animals, piano, yoga and being outdoors. You can find her on Twitter, Linkedin, Goodreads, and her author site.  

STAY TUNED for more fab posts.

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Photo credits: All photos are from Pixabay.

5 responses to “REVERSE CULTURE SHOCK TOOLBOX: Expats, what kinds of tools do you need if you decide to repatriate?

  1. judithworks February 25, 2016 at 1:11 pm

    Reverse culture shock (coming back to the US) was worse that going to Italy.

  2. martina1310 March 17, 2016 at 2:58 am

    Thank you for this book!
    Reverse culture shock comes in disguise and it comes in through the back door… Sometimes you just don’t see it coming, because you are focused on planing all these lovely things you will do once you are back “Home”.
    Reverse culture shock has been severe for myself and my family and certainly many others out there. And yet, especially if you go back to your old neighbourhood, it is not spoken about. Why would one be miserable after such a glorious time away, anyway? And what’s so bad about being back in this lovely neighbourhood, after all? We lack words for it, I’ve lacked words for it. Now it is a main focus of my work.

    So thank you for bringing the message out there and for helping people feel ‘normal’ amidst reverse culture shock.

    • HE March 22, 2016 at 12:13 pm

      Thank you so much for your kind words. I agree with you, reverse culture shock can feel like a head-on collision you don’t see coming. The idea of the book is to move from feeling like loose puzzle pieces to feeling like beautiful patchwork with strong seams. Hopefully, the suggestions in the book will help readers with that. Thank you for sharing your experience and leaving such a wonderful message here.

  3. Pingback: Reverse Culture Shock: The Book - Culture Shock ToolboxCulture Shock Toolbox

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