Reverse Culture ShockiStockphoto
Almost all expats experience reverse culture shock upon their return.
A phenomenon very similar to culture shock occurs among a great number of expatriates after repatriation. Often, this psychological after-effect of repatriation is simply called reverse culture shock, but it’s probably better to understand when described as re-entry shock or re-adjustment issues.
Faced with repatriation to their home country, many expatriates are not prepared for the reverse culture shock they will have to deal with. After all, repatriation simply means going home – how difficult can it actually be? However, the same expatriates then often realize that reverse culture shock hits them harder than they have expected.
Reverse Culture Shock and Reasons for Repatriation
First of all, reverse culture shock and potential adjustment issues depend on expatriates’ various reasons for repatriation. Particularly if the expat decides to return home prematurely, with repatriation happening faster and earlier than originally intended, this can worsen the effects of reverse culture shock. At least, that’s how Nasreen (51) remembers her family’s repatriation from Mexico City.
For them, repatriation was not the end of a successful expatriate assignment but a blessed relief. Her husband felt overwhelmed by his responsibilities as a production manager in a chemical plant in the Distrito Federal, and Nasreen herself was fed up with the local infrastructure and concerned about their daughter’s health problems. With a heavy heart, the frustrated family eventually opted for repatriation – unaware of their coming struggle with reverse culture shock.
We really thought we could do this, you know. I’ve grown up between two cultures and often travelled to Delhi and back to catch up with my relatives. My husband, my daughter and I lived in Greater London before, so we supposed we knew all about coping with life in a metropolis. But we weren’t prepared for Mexico City – the water shortages, the traffic jams everywhere and anytime, the bad air quality. It made our daughter’s minor asthma significantly worse.
Facing Reverse Culture Shock
In the beginning, Nasreen was relieved to return to London: “When we made the joint decision to break off the assignment, I was so glad to leave – and then I was just exhausted and confused when we finally arrived home.”
I felt like a complete failure for not seeing it through, and London was much more chaotic than I’d remembered it. Not quite as stressful as Mexico City, but still… But I’d never heard of reverse culture shock before!
Even if the expat assignment does not end for such unpleasant reasons as overspending, medical problems or family issues, repatriation can lead to a reverse culture shock nonetheless. Although you will probably feel that your last few years abroad were a “success” rather than a waste of time, this doesn’t necessarily make reverse culture shock any easier.