Reverse Culture Shock - Introduction
Answering the Who, Why, and When of Reentry Preparation
International moves are stressful events. When returning home after an extended stay overseas, the move can be complicated by a number of factors. Anyone returning home to the United States after an assignment abroad should prepare for reentry stress. Reentry to the United States may be more difficult for those who acclimated well to their overseas host culture and embraced the overseas experience. In addition, spouses/partners may incur added stress because they are often responsible for the many logistical tasks during a transition. Children face many specific challenges when returning to the United States. Read more about how spouses/partners and children can best handle reentry and adjust to "home." While each individual will face and handle relocation differently, everyone should be prepared.
During times of transition, and especially the reentry period, it is important to garner support from family and friends and work together as a team to overcome the challenges of repatriation.
Reverse culture shock is a natural reaction for those who have lived outside of the United States for an extended period of time. Therefore, preparation before returning home can ease the transition. Many of us have visited the U.S. often while posted overseas and stayed in touch with friends, neighbors and family, but it's not the same as returning home to live, establishing new and different routines, and coping with change.
Do you remember the initial culture shock you faced when first arriving at your foreign assignment? You may remember feeling frustrated, isolated, depressed, anxious and irritable. These are the classic "symptoms" of culture shock and they manifest themselves during the initial period of transition and adaptation to another culture. However, these symptoms usually diminish as a person assimilates and adapts to the foreign culture.
A survey conducted some years ago of members of the foreign affairs community indicated that they suffered "symptoms" of culture shock upon return to the United States. The four most reported reactions to reentry were the following.
Not only did the repatriates suffer from these unpleasant effects, but for more than half of the respondents, it took 3 to 12 months for their lives to return to "normal."
If culture shock is inevitable for those returning home, why did 77% of those surveyed not prepare for their return? It is possible that most individuals dismiss the fact that coming home presents challenges. The survey also indicated that 63% of respondents expected a positive reentry experience. And survey data showed that individuals regretted not planning ahead for such issues as employment, school, housing, and finances.
The process for planning a move home should begin upon learning of a relocation to the United States. Getting a head start in preparing for the move can potentially lessen reentry stress while settling in the United States. Consider some of the following "starter" preparation checklist:
- arrange housing in the United States (short-term or hotel stay if needed) and/or if you own a home, set a "move in" date with your property manager/renters;
- register your child(ren) for school, daycare, and after-school activities (this step may be complicated if you do not yet have a U.S. address);
- say goodbye to friends;
- arrange finances (remember the home service transfer allowance);
- sell items not being shipped;
- pack and organize your belongings;
- for pet owners, arrange for pet shipping and kenneling (if needed);
- schedule time to handle move-related tasks; and
- alert family and friends of your projected itinerary and ask them for help once you've landed home (if needed).
If you let things pile up, some of them will likely not get done, thus increasing the stress of your transition. Therefore, make a list of what you need to accomplish over the next few months before you return home. Read more about the logistics of moving home.