From the numerous articles I’ve read about studying abroad, I don’t think the topic of reverse culture shock gets the spotlight it deserves. Probably because it’s not as glamorous as culture shock, and the idea of being surprised with a new place and adapting to a new culture. From my personal experience, reverse culture shock is a phase as crucial as the initial jitters of culture shock. To me, the process of reverse culture shock is the culmination of your experience abroad, and a time which allows you to reflect on the amazing time you’ve spent abroad.
Reverse culture shock can be simply defined as an emotional and psychological process of re-adjustment, which is very much similar to your initial adjustment when studying abroad. However, it could be particularly harder to deal with, simply because you wouldn’t expect you’d have difficulty reintegrating with a place you’re supposed to be familiar with.
For me, reverse culture shock is a process that is rather difficult to explain in words. You might not have realised when it hit you, it could just be an inkling that something is rather off with your new surroundings. While it is indeed a rather confusing process, let me try to explain a little on what reverse culture shock is like, based on my personal experience.
What you should expect
1. People may not understand you
So, after spending a few years studying and living abroad, you would have a lot of stories to tell. You’d have stories about your roommates, your all-nighter shenanigans and that road trip you took with your friends over the holidays. You’d have stories about all the new cultures you’ve discovered and how the stereotypes you see in the media is far from the reality. You’ve experienced a lot, and you want to share it with everyone – but, I guess sometimes you might feel that they don’t understand you. Whenever you feel like that, though, understand that it’s not because they’re bored of you. Sometimes, it’s just harder for others to relate to an experience that is personal to someone else.
2. You will miss your other home
Secondly, it could feel a little weird when you arrive in your hometown, you feel a little homesick for your other home. You would miss the little things like the little coffee shop you frequent around the corner from your dorm or the local snack shop you always visit. You would most definitely miss the people that you have befriended there and miss the times spent cooking together with your roommates. It’s a little weird to feel homesick when you’re actually at home. Just like when you were homesick for Indonesia when you were abroad, it doesn’t get any easier. I guess, that is one of the prices you have to pay for having an enriched experience of living abroad: your concept of home would inevitably change.
3. You will become overly sensitive of Indonesia’s quirks
Another critical phase of reverse culture shock that rings true to most Indonesians is that you would have become oversensitive to Indonesia’s quirks. Obviously, you don’t have to live abroad to know how beautifully chaotic our beloved country is. But, be honest, who doesn’t miss the incredibly organised public transport system? Your patience with Indonesia’s systems (or lack thereof) would definitely test your patience. You’d have many, many questions for Indonesia. I mean, does it really take that long to wait for your e-KTP to be ready? Does the street of the city have to be so incredibly unfriendly for pedestrian and bicycles? Wait, where have all the sidewalks gone?!
4. You will see Indonesia with a whole new perspective
With that newfound sensitivity towards Indonesia, though, you would start looking at Indonesia with a completely different perspective. You would come to realize that there are a lot of problems that need to be solved for Indonesia. At the same time, you will also realize that the country possesses a lot of potential as well as many aspects and cultures that other countries might not have. You start developing a critical view of our home country, and start questioning why things are the way they are in this country. This doesn’t mean that you despise the country, it actually means that now, you have a better understanding of the country.
What does this all mean?
It all comes down to this, reverse culture shock is just part of a process and will only last a while. Granted, you’ll always miss your other home, and no one will take that away from you. It will always have a special place in your heart. Furthermore, the process of reverse culture shock is basically an evidence of your growth after spending some years abroad. So, I suggest for returnees to see it as an opportunity to reflect on your experiences, and see how it has changed you into a better person. Use this opportunity to ask yourself how your experience could inspire you to build your career, and give back to your own community.
We have been blessed with the opportunity to see the world, explore new cultures and learn from the best institutions abroad. While the process of re-adjusting back in our hometowns could feel daunting, keep in mind that we are among the luckiest youth of Indonesia that had the chance of experiencing life abroad. It’s important that we use our experience and knowledge, to continue inspiring others and do our best to contribute back to Indonesia.
Picture used in this post is private collection of the author.