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Reverse Culture Shock – Were You Born in the Wrong Place?


great guana cay bahamas

images borrowed from Linda Thompkins 

As many of you know my area of study in University was Socio-cultural Anthropology. One of the first subjects students are taught is that of Culture Shock. What it is, the stages, how to prepare and cope. Brushed over in the day was Reverse Culture Shock which not I, but my family found the most difficult to cope with.

One may be able to prepare for Culture Shock and expect to experience it. But do we know how severe Reverse Culture Shock will become after we return home or if we will experience it all?

Millions of people travel each year, return home and never suffer a thing. I would argue those are usually the ones who tend to stay in their resorts and keep themselves semi-removed from the new Culture by exploring the sights via tour companies.

Those of us who experience a Culture through participant observation and deeply immerse ourselves  in the ‘ new way of  life’ are unfortunately more susceptible. I say unfortunate, because it can become debilitating.

I’d like to think there is a cure but I can’t. Only acceptance, understanding and more travel seem to alleviate the shock.

After an extended stay in the West Indies years ago, and upon my return home, my family told me I was depressed. They were concerned and sent me to my doctor.

He asked me what the pleasure of the visit was and I explained my family sent me as they believed I needed anti-depressants. He asked what the basis of this depression was and I explained.

He looked at me for a long time, studied me most bemusedly, then launched into a statistical speech regarding the over use of meds in our society, especially in regards to depression.

“Are you depressed when you travel?” he questioned. My reply, “Of course not, It’s the only time I feel content!”

According to him people often confuse lack of contentment for depression and they all want pills for it.

“Unfortunately some of us,”  he smiled, “Were born in a place we don’t belong. It just doesn’t suit our character. Or perhaps, we are simply descendants of the great explorers who made the world what it is today. If we lived the lives that made us content the pharmaceutical company would have to find different pills to push.”

He patted me on the shoulder as he passed me a piece of paper, “You aren’t suffering from depression Kelly. Go home and tell your family my prescription is an airplane ticket and Vitamin D in the form of sunshine. It is people like you who make the world a better place.”

I hugged him. I love that man!

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8 thoughts on “Reverse Culture Shock – Were You Born in the Wrong Place?

  1. Oh yes, we experience this whenever we come home! It may not be as severe as returning from the West Indies, but whenever we return from an Anglosphere country, we get home and think, “But where are all the cozy pubs! And pubs with fireplaces! And friendly locals!” First world problems. Which trip have you had the most reverse culture shock coming back from?

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  2. ‘First World Problems’ – Back home we always speak of ‘Third World Problems’ don’t we? When really, if we look at these other countries and compare them to Canada for example, which is a very young country, it makes one wonder who is first and who is third? The First World becomes a problem when we suffer RCS.

    I don’t suffer so much anymore – because I understand it, and I don’t think it is a bi-product of the people or culture but more-so the weather – I’m not a winter person. I always say, “When the sun falls below the horizon that’s too much winter for me!”

    The first time I experienced it, my family sent me to the doctor – and it was when I returned home from Barbados. I missed island time, the lack of stringent rules – you can still ride around in the back off a pick-up truck there, the foods, sounds, sights, everything. It really just suits my personality, I miss it every day. I can relate to it. The way they live ‘feels’ like ‘me’. So all one can do then, is accept, and return year after year.

    Is there a place in this world that feels like home and draws you back?

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    • I hear a lot of people have trouble coming back from island life, because the pace is so vastly different. We are going to Tasmania for the 3rd time next month, and if we could both gets jobs there, we’d surely be living there already! Alas, it will probably remain a ‘maybe we can retire here’ reality. Love your blog!

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  3. Oh Kelly, you have described me to a TEE! Thank you SO much for this post. I feel at home where I live now; Greece and to be honest, have never felt at home in my country of birth…the UK. And how many times did I feel guilty for not liing the 9-5 Mon – Fri marriage with kids expectation?? It’s so good to see there are more of me out there.

    GREAT post – thanks. I will be sharing. Glad I met you on Twitter.

    :0)

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    • Thank you Rebecca! I’m glad I’m not the only one! LOL Have you ever watched Shirley Valentine? She is my heroine – when she discovers herself in Greece and her family is mortified. I have watched that movie more times than I can count. And, I have shared it with everyone I love – to their dismay I might add! LOL

      As a matter of fact, I have bought copies of that movie for my children and plan to give it to them BEFORE they get married!

      Glad to have met you as well, thank you for sharing.

      I think it’s important to remember it’s ok to be ourselves, other people in our lives will just have to learn to live with us.

      Years after this episode and many arguments of misunderstanding later, by mom bought me a plaque that read – “Don’t try to understand me, just love me” – that was her kind gesture for loving a person whose dreams she couldn’t relate to.

      Never feel guilty or apologize for who you are – because that’s when people will finally take the time to get to know, love and accept the real you.

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