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Dealing with reverse culture shock and repatriation – is it as bad as you think?

Dealing with reverse culture shock and repatriation – is it as bad as you think?

If you’ve lived the expat life you’re probably quite familiar with the dissociative feeling of culture shock; you may have felt out of place, overwhelmed by stimuli or frankly just wanting to find somewhere quiet to lay down and recover from the jet lag.

Some of the most common psychological symptoms include the standard homesickness, mood swings and bouts of depression, but whatever your personal experience of culture shock, everyone experiences it differently and everybody copes with their symptoms in a different way.

The fact is, while expatriation may be a huge shock to the system – both mentally and emotionally – it has been proven to be quite good for you overall; fostering wisdom and understanding of ideas and cultures other than one’s own, because despite the initial discomfort, culture shock is an essential part of personal growth.

But when it comes to moving back to your home country… Is it even harder to cope with than the feelings of standard culture shock?


Reverse culture shock occurs when the realisation dawns that your hometown – the one that once felt homely and safe – no longer feels like home, and instead of relief, you feel detached and a bit alienated. Friends feel like strangers and the way of life that you once held dear doesn’t resonate with who you are anymore.

If you’ve experienced repatriation before then chances are you’re familiar with the cognitive and emotional dissonance that accompanies your return to reality. Jessie from Jessie on a Journey explained that when she returned home to the US from a half-year working and studying abroad in Sydney, she started experiencing some strong symptoms of depression, shutting friends and family out. Overall, it left her pining to return.

Jessie coped with her new found reverse culture shock with three things… acceptance, assimilation, and time.

  1. Jessie accepted that her friends and family would not fully understand the experiences she had abroad
  2. She slowly assimilated back into her friend group and community which took…
  3. Time, the greatest healer.


Upon your return, it may feel as though your hometown has changed or has perhaps suddenly become really boring. This is one of the funny illusions of repatriation where your perspective plays a part.

Your home hasn’t changed, it is you that has outgrown your previous way of life. You would have spent months, if not years, getting accustomed to brand-new culture, social protocols, sights, sounds and invariably, a wildly different taste palate. Face it, you’ve been liberated from your cultural clichés and experienced an entirely different way of life, why should you expect to fit straight back in like a fish to water?


Fortunately, although reverse culture shock can be one of the toughest and most uncomfortable experiences for a repatriate, there are some simple, novel, and effective ways to combat it, including:

  • Sharing your experience – You’ve had the adventure of a lifetime yet your friends and family seem disinterested. Instead of forcing several months of experience on them at once, try to explain one or two things in detail, and grab their attention. Remember, all these new experiences are preparing you to be a better storyteller, so if you can, try to paint a richer account of your time abroad and maybe save a few of the better stories for later (maybe crack them out at the pub or a dinner party when spirits are running high).
  • Retain your internationality – Nobody likes a show-off, but everybody likes a well-travelled and cultured individual, so maintain your expat habits, keep cooking those local dishes (even if you can’t find the ingredients anymore) and don’t for a second feel you must revert to your ‘old self’.
  • Don’t settle – You don’t have to settle for a mediocre experience. Yes, your friends and family may not have the same enthusiasm and attitude as your friends abroad and living in a small town in the UK may not be as exciting as residing on the coast of New Zealand, but you can still re-expatriate!

If you’re repatriating anytime soon, or thinking of becoming an expat, get in touch with the team at Currency UK – who can help you with sending cash overseas and we could save you a few bob too!

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