How to deal with reverse culture shock after a long overseas assignment

How to deal with reverse culture shock after a long overseas assignment

How to deal with reverse culture shock after a long overseas assignment

Is the reverse culture shock of coming home from a long-term assignment even worse than being a newbie in a strange land?

In many ways, long term expatriate professionals risk losing their built-in sense of identity, home and belonging, all of which they learned from childhood up in their countries of birth. Some identify as expat citizens of the world after several long-term postings and others find more satisfaction in their adopted countries then at home. Both groups tend to lose their definitions of home the longer they are away.

Consequently, heading back to the home country on a permanent basis can induce more culture shock than they experienced when they first moved overseas. The majority of returning expats seem to realise that what they’d remembered as home is no longer there due to the fast pace of change in today’s world. Many who’ve experienced this decide there’s no such place as home for them as they’ve no idea which out of the countries where they’ve lived and worked is most like the home they remember. Even if family and old friends are still alive, returnee expats are still the ‘new guys on the block’ as their life experiences don’t gell with those who’d never left.

Many others who’ve at least visited their home countries whilst working overseas still experience culture shock when they return permanently. One way to reintegrate back into the original culture is to spend time with local expat communities, as it’ll help to see the home country though the eyes of new arrivals. Rediscovering a familiar but forgotten lifestyle through others’ eyes can help with reverse culture shock and ease adjustment to inevitable changes.

Another way to deal with the unfamiliarity of the once familiar is to treat the return just like another foreign posting to a land where English is spoken. Dealing with ‘home’ as if it were a foreign country avoids attempts to reintegrate, a process which isn’t necessary for many expat returnees. After all, being a citizen of the world is no bad thing, and reverting to the person you used to be is a mistake.

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