Google fb32x32 twitter linkedin feed-icon-32x32

5 Tips For Overcoming Reverse Culture Shock

5 Tips For Overcoming Reverse Culture Shock

May 07, 2012

"You may tell yourself: this is not my beautiful house!" So, what can you do?

I thought I was crazy for feeling so nervous about returning from India to New Zealand. It felt so irrational: I was going back to the place I grew up and with which I was most familiar. What could be worrying about that?

Lots of things, actually. I loved the life I'd made for myself in India and I knew I would miss it. I felt like I'd changed since leaving and feared that with my new identity, I wouldn't be able to relate to people in the same way I used to. I even wondered whether my time abroad had damaged my attractiveness to employers, given that I'd picked up skills that either required certification if I wanted to pursue in New Zealand or were part of a particular outsourcing industry that didn't really exist 'back home'.

Those are just a few examples; there was a lot more that freaked me out, too. As it happens, so-called 'reverse culture shock' is a regular phenomenon, and can apparently be more of an intense challenge than the initial culture shock one feels at moving abroad. It wasn't always easy to readjust to life in New Zealand, but given that I'm now quite happy and comfortable here, it can't have been too bad.

Here are some tips for the returning expat, based on my experience.

Treat it like moving to a foreign country. I had adjusted to a new culture before, and I could do it again. It didn't really matter that this time, the new culture was already very familiar. I was still moving from one country, India, to a very different country, New Zealand, and I couldn't have the same life in one that I had in the other. When I acknowledged that it was going to take work, particularly in consciously extending my comfort zone, I opened up a number of new personal connections and memorable experiences.

More than anything, the attitude that I was moving 'abroad' helped me to see New Zealand with fresher, more curious eyes than I would have if I'd approached it as moving 'back home'. It wasn't foolproof – some preconceptions are inevitable – but in general, I found myself rediscovering my homeland rather than trying to recreate an old feeling.

Embrace the freedoms of your old home, whatever they may be.
There are things I can do in New Zealand that I couldn't really do in India. Select products from a massive range of alcoholic and snack products from the supermarket, for example, or have a conversation in fluent English with virtually everyone I meet. I can go to a local or national government office without a deep sense of dread at the trials that await me within, and I can access near-pristine bush walks just minutes from my home.

The reverse is also true, of course – there are numerous freedoms offered by India that just aren't there in New Zealand. The point is, every country affords at least a few unique possibilities. Take advantage of them, as opposed to lamenting the freedoms you've lost.

Remember that there are good people everywhere.

I missed my friends in Kerala the moment I left. After finding some great people and building up such deep and meaningful connections with them over the years, the prospect of rekindling old friendships or developing new ones was daunting.

It's been proved again, however, that there are good people everywhere. I was very lucky to get a job in which I am surrounded by multi-talented, kind and socially adept people, and they have formed the bulk of my new friendships in New Zealand. In other cases it might not be so easy, but it's worth the effort to find good people and spend time around them. Their goodness will rub off on you.

Reach out to existing support network(s), if any.
For me, my support network was my family. After the debacle of leaving India, my morale was at an all time low. My previous life in Kerala had come to an abrupt and jarring end, and the trials of leaving India left me with virtually no money or possessions -- at least, not enough to start a new life in New Zealand.

Fortunately, my family filled the breach by providing me with places to stay, food to eat and people to talk to. Every one of them helped me in some way or another, and continue to do so. Your needs may not be as desperate, but the value of having friendly and/or familiar faces to help you adjust is difficult to overstate. They provide a kind of bridge to help you readjust, and in time, you'll want to repay their support any way you can.

Be interested in the lives of others.
You'll find that some of your old connections will pick right back up where they left off, while others will require some adjustment. In some cases, you might find the old common ground to have disappeared altogether. The majority of people won't have many questions about your life abroad, no matter how many answers you want to give.

This lack of curiosity from others seems to be a surprise for most who return home from another country, and it was for me too. The best way to overcome it is to demonstrate your own interest in what's going on with others – in other words, show them that you care. It helps foster an atmosphere of curiosity.

And if they're still not that bothered about the food you used to eat, the places you used to go and all the other things you used to do, well, isn't there plenty going on right now? 


  • Rajpriya
    08.05.12 08:55 AM

    I cannot understand why many people born and bred in India and living in NZ, OZ, USA or Europe are only on very short holidays in India. They never want to extend their stay in India even if they could.

    Could not know the difference between reversed culture and culture reversed?
  • mocha
    07.05.12 10:52 PM
    so happy for you! glad everything worked out fine in the end.
  • Dr_idli
    07.05.12 02:42 PM
    You've written this article trying a little too hard to be as "politically correct" as possible :-)

Leave a comment