Reverse culture shock

Hi fellow Atlas Obscura people ,

So I think the phenomena of “Reverse culture shock” isn’t discussed nearly enough when it comes to travelling and exploring which is strange because it is a pertinent aspect of the whole experience of travel.

I have personally experienced how alienating , disorientating and unnerving it can be on so many occasions when I’ve lived in different countries for extended periods of time and then returned to my own country.

I was wondering if any of you guys have experienced this ? If so how did you deal with it ? Did any major life decisions result from you experiencing it ?

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I count this as an explicit benefit of travel, most especially to places with another language, and the usual accompanying cultural distance.

When I went to Havana, it was several days before I realized that there are no advertisements around the city. It’s not so obvious, because products still have familiar labels, and stores look similar once you’re inside, but there were no ambient ads trying to inject purchasing ideas into your psyche.

When I landed back stateside, I was that much more attuned to the bombardment of images and text that surround us all the time.

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Thanks for the reply Luke.

That is an awesome example of reverse culture shock through differences in the mental environment between countries and cultures. I think Cuba is really quite unique in the lack of advertisements and consumer culture in that sense.

I do think its a benefit but its also in my opinion a bit of double edged sword to some extent because it can make coming home and even feeling at home back in your native country quite difficult.

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As an NYC resident, I usually have the feeling of returning to find my city more ugly than where I came from. New York is great because it is a cultural capital, and the people are varied, ambitious, and wonderful on the whole, but the sum total of architecture and natural landscape doesn’t stack up to (from relatively recent personal experience) London, Chicago, Edinburgh, Buenos Aires, Los Angeles, or San Francisco (emphasis on natural landscape more than architecture on those last two), in my opinion.

The only architectural feature of world class beauty in NYC is, in my opinion, Central Park. Aside from that we are negligent in our maintenance of high quality public space. Washington Square demands some consideration, but I maintain that’s a place more animated by the people than the grounds, even after the well executed renovation.

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That’s an interesting perspective , perhaps its the sheer concentration of buildings in New York that gives that claustrophobic feel.

I agree Central Park is beautiful and world class although I would add another New York attraction albeit not in terms of its architecture or green spaces , the American Natural History Museum.

Honestly, since visiting the ANHM quite some years ago I’ve never seen a Natural History Museum that has compared to the incredible taxidermy dioramas of that place , it really is a world class institution in that respect.

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I am French, and I have lived in the US (Tennessee and Illinois), Hungary, Uzbekistan, and Flemish Belgium. I look at reverse culture shock as Something positive. You’re born where you’re born per sheer luck, Nothing you can do about it, but by traveling, you can take what you think is best from each culture to create your own.
To come back home and experience a reverse culture shock is not always negative, I have also been pleasantly surprised by our Social Security in France as an example, while the level of service was granted for me before.
I learnt from Hungary and Uzbekistan the power of helping each other not expecting anything in return, and I try to Apply it in Europe now.
Only back side about reverse culture shock, is that I start to miss it ;=)
Enzo Rhode-Hagen

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Hi Enzo ,

Thats a really interesting perspective and one that I share in a lot of ways. I dont know if this will make any sense, as so much of this is subjective, but I think reverse culture shock can be jarring , disorientating and can lead to depression in the short term due to the associated effects.

At least that has been my perspective of this phenomena having experienced it so far , but in the long time it certainly does give you a broad perspective , self knowledge and self reliance , and knowledge of the world and to me that is that is something that is more valuable than gold.

In the long term though going through that experience has confirmed to me something very valuable about myself and my life goals which has only strengthened my resolve and my character to some extent.

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I think I understand what you say. What I forgot to say is that I almost only came back to France for the past 20 years as a tourist, and I lived in different places. My parents moved régions. So I guess this was kind of Lucky. Going back to where I grew up after such different life expériences may have been indeed depressive.

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I was also going to say that basically after experiencing some really rough times partly as a result of reverse culture shock I actually came to the conclusion that I didnt feel any connection to my own country or culture anymore. It’s quite a hard thing to describe but its most definitely a very visceral of detachment and dislocation.

Of course its where my parents and siblings live and as I love them I will always visit them and take trips there, but my country is no longer my “Home” and beyond my family I feel no obligations to my country or its institutions whatsoever , which I know sounds almost profane but its true .

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I’ve never felt much connection to of understanding of my culture or country. I don’t generally have significant culture shock when I travel because figuring out another culture uses the same skills I developed to figure out my own (or I have the same culture shock regardless). And I do research ahead of time to have an idea of what to expect.

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Thanks for the reply Aaron ! If you dont mind me asking , where are you from ? and where have you traveled to/ where would you like to travel to ?

I live in southern California. I’ve traveled to Canada, Mexico, England, France, Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. This summer, I’m going to the Yucatan peninsula. Japan is high on my destination list and there are Obscura trips that I want to join, like most of them. Worldcon is going to be in New Zealand next year. There is more travel than my budget, time, and sometimes health allow.

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With regards to finances and health, and without going into detail, I understand and empathize with that difficulty as I have had similar struggles and still feel like there is so much of the world I would like to see.

I’m sure you are going to love Yucatan , it is really a very distinctive and diverse part of Mexico in terms of cuisine , wildlife and it has a very rich vein of both Pre-hispanic , Colonial and Post independence history.

It is one of the most controversial regions of the country because historically the Yucateco’s wanted to have total independence and sovereignty from Mexico in a way that was kind of similar to Texas. The move towards that state’s independence was never concretely achieved but it is in a certain sense almost a nation within a nation.

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Just realised that I never posted a reply!

I’ve experienced reverse culture shock. Having spent my growing up years in the islands somewhere in Asia, there are things I’ve appreciated and not appreciated about both where I live now and in any of the places where I used to live. Food is always a big factor - I remember cooking the food that I’ve missed or eating out in places where I can find it as a way of easing back. Sometimes, it works and sometimes it doesn’t. I’ve learnt how to adjust and acclimatise quickly as I’m quite adaptable. There are always blessings about where I might be and I tend to look at the positives and stay on the sunny side of the street… :musical_note:

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