contributed by Melissa Lucas, senior staff writer
Culture shock is the feeling of disorientation experienced when suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes. The word, “unfamiliar” leads us to believe that one wouldn’t experience culture shock when coming home from overseas. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Families and service members are almost guaranteed to experience some level of reverse culture shock upon returning home after living abroad.
When you move abroad, you know you’ll be immersing yourself in an unfamiliar culture. You go into the experience understanding that there will be much to learn and adjust to. But it’s less common to have the same expectations upon returning home. It’s home, after all.
This is why reverse culture shock has the potential to be more jarring than the culture shock experienced upon arriving in an unfamiliar country.
Here are a few of the most common concerns military families face when they return home from an OCONPCS experience.
It takes time to find your place again after arriving home. First of all, you’ve likely become used to your identity as the “American Overseas.” Whether you intended to or not, you stood out in your host country. After moving back to your home country, you’re just another American, living in America. On top of that, your friends and family might not be as interested to hear about your experiences as you are to share them, which can exacerbate reentry shock, or reverse culture shock.
Our society is full of abundance, waste, and a certain amount of materialism. So much of this simply doesn’t exist in other places around the globe. After living without it for a significant amount of time, returning home to it might be difficult.
The go, go, go, attitude with which we live is quite unique to the States. Most other cultures value rest and balance much more than Americans, and you probably got used to this slower pace while overseas. Jumping back into this American way of life will take some getting used to.
Any new experience or perspective can change the way you look at the world, and it is normal to develop new attitudes and even find that your personal values and beliefs shift while you’re gone. These changes, which occurred gradually while you were out of the country, can become glaringly apparent upon return.
People often want to know how to prevent culture shock during, or reverse culture shock after, a PCS move. However, it’s not something that’s particularly avoidable. But you can be prepared to cope with it. Here are a few tips to help ease the transition.
Military families tend to move often, which makes this tip the simplest of them all. Take the “shock” out of culture shock by acknowledging it’s existence. You won’t be able to escape your feelings, but simply anticipating them and understanding that they are normal will go a long way to ease the discomfort of reentry.
If you don’t feel like you’ve said goodbye to your foreign culture, it can be more difficult to accept your home culture when you return. Keep some of the homecoming blues at bay by creating an official goodbye plan before heading back stateside. See the people who have become special to you. Check off any last items from your overseas bucket list and then visit your favorite places one more time before you leave.
Prepare yourself by arriving home mentally before you arrive physically. What does home look like? What will be different? What will be frustrating? How will others respond to you? Realistically running yourself through these scenarios is very helpful. Make a list of what to expect and review it in the weeks leading up to your departure.
It can also help to create a loose plan for the to-do’s you want to accomplish when you get home. What logistical items must you get done and in what order? These don’t have to be firm plans. But when things get tough, having a task list to tackle can provide just enough distraction to help weather the emotional storm as it passes.
If you ask most families who have been in your shoes, they’re likely to tell you that the experience overseas was worth navigating culture shock on both ends. As you maneuver your own challenges, keep this in mind and take time to focus on the positive experiences in both your temporary and permanent homes.
For additional resources and support, the U.S. Department of State has detailed briefings on what to expect and how to manage reverse culture shock in yourself, young children, and teenagers.