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Am I experiencing reverse culture shock?



After living in a foreign place for a long time, some of you may decide to move back to your home country. While it’s a great feeling to be home again, you’ll start to notice that some things that used to be familiar are becoming strange. You may feel nostalgic, anxious, sad or even angry. And that’s because you are experiencing ‘reverse culture shock’. 

But! I think that we don’t necessarily have to move back in order to experience some of these cultural differences. Even just going for a visit can bring up some memories and emotions.

Ok, but what the heck is
reverse culture shock’?!

I have talked about culture shocks before. More specifically 6 of them that I’ve experienced moving to the USA. So I got really interested to research about what ‘reverse culture shock’ means, and does it relate to me?

First of all, culture shock is when somebody moves to a new country that has a different culture. They start to experience some unrelated habits, traditions, and communication skills. Everything that’s different from what they’re used to in their house is kind of a cultural shock when moving somewhere. Or even when you just take a short trip to visit.

Reverse culture shock on the other hand is kind of the backward result of all of that. I found a really good article that perfectly describes the feeling:

“Reverse culture shock is the emotional and psychological distress suffered by some people when they return home after a number of years overseas.” (Resource: Investopedia)

Well, this is a pretty good description of me, even though I’m not moving back to Hungary. I got to think: do we experience these changes when we are only traveling for a visit, or it has to be a permanent stay?

The more time you spend in an extreme culturally different environment, the bigger culture shock it will result. And this works both ways. So the more time you spend overseas, the longer it will take you to bounce back to your original culture. Learning how to readjust yourself into your home country will take more time and practice than we would think. You have all of these memories and places that you excited to go back to. But this may take you as a surprise, as you start to realize that things have changed or are different. It’s good to be aware of that when you decide to move back to the home country.

You may also second guess yourself and get a little bit confused, because making this decision was (I’m assuming) a pretty big dilemma for you, your partner and kids, if you have any. It’s a pretty heavy decision to make. Maybe you are going to feel like a failure, because of moving back, maybe you feel like you abandoned the country, maybe you are returning because there is no other choice. Financial reasons, feeling lost, family relationships,… Maybe somebody is really sick, so you want to move back to take care of them. Maybe you are financially not able to live in this foreign country. So it really depends on what are the reasons for returning.

Have a conversation about this with your partner, or with your family and make a pro/con list to decide why do you want to move back? Why do you have to move back? Why would you not want to? What do you love the most there? What did you used to love there the most? Make sure to talk to your family and friends who lives back in your home country. Have a conversation not just about practicality and logistics (such as finding a job, a new home, school, expenses…etc.), but also little things that will help you bring up some memories. It’s really valuable to talk with others already (or still) living in the country, and ask for some advice.

My mom would always tell my how things have changed back in Hungary, nothing is the way it used to be 10-15 years ago. And it’s funny because when I go back to visit, for me everything looks the same. I’m in my little happy bubble. I feel really nostalgic and excited to spend time with people, walk the streets and soak it all in. There are so many things that if I would have lived my whole life there, I would have never noticed, felt joy from it, or appreciated. That’s the great thing about us living in another country. We get to have this happy, nostalgic feeling when we visit our home country.

So just be aware of it, and ask yourself a question: Is that why I want to move back? Because I miss all of those little things? Remember that these short visits are only vacations! You may go to the beach, stay in a hotel, you don’t have to cook, do laundry, or go to work. It’s not the same as actually living there, and doing everyday chores.

Since I don’t have any personal experience with moving back to Hungary (or Serbia), I found a really good article about this emotional rollercoaster you could go through during this time of your life. It perfectly describes the feeling of reverse culture shock and the social isolation we may experience.

Even though I haven’t moved back permanently to my home town, I do experience reverse culture shock when visiting. So I’ve decided to make a list of things I found interesting. It was a really fun project, brought up a lot of memories.

If you are Hungarian, -maybe living abroad for a long time- I would love to hear your experiences, so don’t forget to leave a comment after this post.

1, Speaking and accent

Sometimes I find myself searching for the perfect word in Hungarian, or trying to translate it from English. I think this is coming from learning English through my husband and my life experiences, instead of in a class environment where you translate and learn all the rules and grammar properly.

2, Driving and traffic

I usually don’t drive in Hungary anymore since my drivers licence expired, and it’s just easier for me to get around with my family. But I do remember having a different driving attitude and behavior, than I have now it the US. Let’s just say it’s a little bit calmer.

3, Treating others respectfully

In America we got used to strangers smiling at us on the street, chatting with people in the grocery store. Everybody is extremely nice and polite. So in Hungary when I apologize just for being in the way or smile at somebody, people start to look at me weird. 

4, Using my name reversed

I constantly keep making this mistake. Switching the order of my name and introducing myself as Denning Edit instead of Edit Denning gets me all the time!

5, Punctuality and managing time differently

Hungarians (and Italians for that matter) are always late. Well, most of them( Let’s not generalize.) This is something that was challenging for me to learn, and at the same time when we have hungarian meetups here in Arizona, everybody is 30 minutes late. 

6, Unsolicited advice and getting really personal

I used to give people unwanted advice, but over the time I’ve gotten used to keeping my mouth shot. So when we go back to Hungary I’m more likely notice people doing it to me. I find it funny and it doesn’t bother me at all, but I learned to respect other people’s different viewpoints and opinions. When you give somebody advice that is really personal, is something that Americans find rude and disrespectful. They would feel that you undervalue and judge them.

7, Cars won’t stop for you to cross the road

This is a hard one for some foreigners, especially American kids to learn. In the US cars have to stop when students are getting on and off the school bus. So they are not used to looking around when crossing the road.

8, Using knife

In America, most of the time we only use fork when eating our meal. It’s a fun little difference I notice every time.

9, Shopping and restaurants

In Hungary there are no plastic bags at the grocery store, and you can’t return bought products. Tipping is not necessary, but if you decide to do it, tell the waitress the amount ahead of time.

There are also some differences that I’m really excited to experience. 

Enjoying the nice weather (nicer than here in Arizona for sure!), downtown coffee shops, and speaking Hungarian with everybody. I think this is one of the biggest effects that you get when going back to the home country. Everybody is speaking your language. It just makes you feel home!

So that’s it for my reverse culture shock list, round one.

And now let me give you my final advice as I wrap up this topic:

1, Remember why did you make this choice in your life. Why did you move to another country? What problems were you facing? What are the things that are missing out of your life the most? When you go back, are you going to be able to fulfill those needs and wants? Because ultimately being happy is the most important thing in our life!

2, Be open minded about changes, because it’s a natural way of moving on. As you return, you’ll notice some differences and that’s just part of life. Don’t feel guilty or don’t feel like you missed something in your life that you can’t ever return!

3, Nostalgia is good for your soul, but be realistic! It feels good to remember old times, but make sure that you know the difference between the memory in your heart and reality in present life.

Did you experience some cultural differences? Have you moved back to your hometown? I’d love to invite you to join my facebook group so we can keep the conversation going. See ya there!

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Although I was born in Serbia, graduated in Italy and have been living overseas for 14+ years, I'm very proud of my Hungarian heritage.
I love documenting my life adventures, trying out healthy recipes and herbal remedies, or going on family trips in our new home, Canada.

I'm Edit!

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