Beware Of Reverse Culture Shock

Instead of longing to be home, you want to leave home again.

Instead of longing to be home, you want to leave home again.

BY DEAN GARDINER

My wife, son, and I spent close to three-and-a-half years living in Taiwan. During our stay on the little island next to China, we all experienced culture shock, but that wasn’t the surprise. Rather, it was its insidious companion, reverse culture shock that surprised us.

Reverse culture shock (RSC) is a phenomena that affects many expats upon their return to their homeland after spending time overseas. RCS is usually categorized by four stages that closely resemble the stages of culture shock: disengagement, initial euphoria, irritability, hostility, readjustment, and adaptation. Upon my return from Taiwan, I experienced all the aforementioned stages during my first year back.

Disengagement began before I left Taiwan; I found myself losing interest in my work and withdrawing from activities at my place of employment. For example, I was previously vocal and full of ideas during our weekly meetings, but no so much in the last two or three weeks before my departure. I found the last few days particularly trying as I had to say my farewells to a number of people who had become good friends and to the students I had taught–some of whom I had taught since I moved to Taiwan. My sadness was mixed with anticipation and excitement at the thought of returning home.

Once home, I experienced feelings of euphoria. It was wonderful to breathe clean air, to see the stars shining clearly at night, and to walk the streets without fear of flying betel nut spit. I was also relieved that I no longer had to squeeze past parked motor scooters. People stopped when the traffic lights turned red instead of speeding up. Also, the irritating sounds of the angry hoards of motor scooters, the mini-trucks each armed with its own megaphone, the loud music, and the unintelligible slogans were absent.

There was excitement visiting my friends and family, telling them about my experiences in Taiwan. However, this excitement–and my friends’ and family’s interest in my tales of peril–waned and  mundane life took hold.

My family and I moved to a small township with a population of only two hundred people–a vast change from the million or so living in Taichung, a city in central Taiwan. Frustration, alienation, and mild depression occurred over the next few months. I found myself being overly critical of my home country’s education system, government policies (particularly those on personal freedom), over-the-top political correctness, and other trivial aspects. Even the weather and food became targets of my ire. I felt a loss of independence and money, which had never been a problem in Taiwan.

I found myself reminiscing about facets of life in Taiwan that had irritated me before, but now seemed to be missing: the ubiquitous 7-11s, the crowds of people on the streets or at the night markets, the warm weather, the food (well some of it at least), the inability to properly communicate (sometimes a blessing in disguise), and even the mosquito-like drone of hundreds of motor scooters.

Gradually, I readjusted to life in my home country, bringing with it a sense of normality. However, I had definitely been changed by the time I spent in Taiwan; my life never appeared to be the same as before. My personal and professional goals were different, as well as my attitude towards politics.

I have attempted to incorporate the positive features of both my overseas experience with the positive features of life in my homeland–an important step for anyone who has experienced reverse culture shock. iT!

Dean lived in Taiwan for three years with his family.

Advertisements