Resources: Notes on Life and Language in the United States

Reverse Culture Shock | When the Unexpected Catches You by Surprise

Posted by Lindsay McMahon on Tue, Jan 10, 2012 @ 09:25 AM

reverse culture shockSo you have been in the United States as an international professional or students for a few years.

Maybe you even brought your family over here. It took you a while to adjust to life in the US, to learn English for your career and to really understand how to communicate with Americans.

Now you've got a one way ticket back home. Your time in the U.S. is over. It has been quite an adventure but you handled it pretty well and you have grown from the experience. You have gained some real cross-cultural skills that will help you in the next phase of your career.

So now it's time to head home. This should be the easy part, right? After all of the difficulties that you have experienced setting up your life in the U.S., why would it be hard to return to your home country?

Is this your thought process? If so, stop right there!

Re-entry difficulty or reverse culture shock is more common than you think. In today's post, find out why moving back home can be challenging, who tends to experience difficulties and what you can do now to prepare yourself for the move back home.


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The Power of the Unexpected


 reverse culture shock quote from landisWhen you came to the US, you knew that things would be different. Before you arrived, you might have picked up a few books, attempted to brush up on your business English skills or learned a bit about cultural norms in the US.

Maybe your company or school even gave you a day or two of cross- cultural training to prepare for the move.

When you felt the chaos of the transition to life in the US, you knew what to do. You were prepared. If you handled the move here so well, going back should be simple, right? Not really.

The thing is, whether you realize it or not, you have changed during your time abroad. People at home might have changed also but probably not in the same way.

So you are returning as a different person and the fact that you expect it to be easy will make it even harder!

Below you will find some of the factors that may determine how easy or difficult the re-entry experience will be for you.


Will Reverse Culture Shock Happen to You?



  • What is your nationality? According to Kim (2001), people who return to certain cultures that tend to look down upon citizens who have taken on different ways of being or who integrate part of their experience abroad into their new identity, experience the most difficulty. This is a common challenge for Japanese citizens who return to Japan after living in the U.S. and might start to communicate in a more direct manner or operate with a more individualistic mindset than Japanese people who never left the country.
  • What is your gender? Research has shown that females tend to have more difficulty when they return to their home country if their home country has more narrow gender expectations than the country where they lived abroad.
  • What is your personality and general view toward life? Someone who is open-minded, is a risk taker and has significant inner strength is likely to handle the transition to life at home more successfully. 
  • What is your cross- cultural experience? Most likely, if you have moved to new cultures and returned home a few times in the past, the transition to life at home will be easier than if this were your first time.
  • Did you receive training to prepare to return home? It is so important to have an understanding of what you are likely to feel when you return home. Don't underestimate this experience! Researchers have found that professionals who scored low on tests that ranked their level of preparedness experienced more distress when they returned home (Landis 2004).


Going Back to your Home Country?


Here's What you Should Do:


 plane boardingSo if you are preparing to return home after living in the United States for a while, get informed!

Take some time to think and reflect.

Talk to a cross- cultural trainer, coach, an advisor or a good friend and start to identify some of the challenges that you are likely to encounter.




Here are some of the questions that you should ask yourself:


  • How has your identity or communication style shifted while living abroad?
  • How is your worldview different from when you left home? What challenges might that present?
  • How is this likely to affect your transition back to your home country and your interactions with your old colleagues and friends?


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Kim, Y. Y. (2001). Becoming intercultural: An integrative theory of communication and cross-cultural adaptation.
Thousand Oaks, CA: SageLandis, D., Janet, M. Bennett, Milton J. (Eds.) (2004). Handbook of InterculturaL Training (3rd Edition.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.
photo credit:caribb,   dirtymouse

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