Last updated on July 4th, 2020
Many people have come to me lately about the topics of culture shock & reverse culture shock, and I wanted to address those. When people think about these concepts, they tend to focus more on the former, rather than the latter. Culture shock is when the destination you are traveling to is vastly different from your home country in many different aspects, which brings a “shock” (so-to-speak) to your system.
I am here to say this is completely true, except not in the negative sense people tend to view it. The “shock,” in reality, is a wake-up call. Within seconds of stepping foot overseas, you can feel your previous paradigms crumbling to pieces; at least, this is how it felt for me the first time I landed in Taiwan.
Culture shock is realizing, as a wise person once told me, “you don’t know what you don’t know.” And boy, was I ever clueless about how the world really is. According to the news media (more like propaganda at this point), the rest of the world is unsafe, less advanced, and more or less a 3rd world country in comparison. While this may be true in certain cases, most of the places I have been blessed & fortunate to see are far from this stereotype.
I have always been an introvert, but when overseas, the extrovert part of me jumps out. I truly feel I’m where I belong when traveling, whether it be Taiwan, Italy, Japan, Mexico, etc. Outside of your normal comfort zone, something in the air brings out the true you. But don’t take my word for it; find out for yourself!
Reverse culture shock is a very real thing. Since moving back from Taiwan the last time in 2015, aside from my visits overseas, I have felt a bit lost here at “home.” I use quotations around home because I really believe home is where your heart lies. A part of my heart will always lie in the US due to family & friends, but a large portion of it remains in Taiwan, Italy, and every other amazing place I have been blessed to see and experience.
Since returning, at times, it has felt as if I’ve been coasting through life, Like in the movie, the Matrix, my travel experiences were the equivalent of taking the red pill; however, instead of waking up to a complete disaster (like in the movie), it made me feel truly alive. Consequentially, corporate life in America & the prospect of being a future CFO does not draw my excitement as it once did.
My advice for adjusting to life back “home” is taking a long, hard look in the mirror and reevaluating your priorities, desires, & interests going forward. If you have a certain passion and dream, do not waste countless years pretending it isn’t real; on the contrary, do whatever it takes to make your dream become a reality. Furthermore, because we are creatures of habit, we tend to gravitate towards behaviors we are used to performing in our daily lives; it is up to you to be mindful of this and nip it in the bud before it leads you further down a path of coasting through life.
As always, please feel free to leave comments/questions as I will be reading each & every one of them and responding. If you want to know something, ask away! Do not hesitate to contact us if you need anything at all or would like to chat with us! Please hit those follow, share, & like buttons; just don’t eat the apple. Until next time, stay traveling (safely)!
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I really loved this Adam. I can relate to being a bit of an introvert at home and then releasing my inner extrovert whilst travelling; I engage with so many people on the cruises that I’ve been mistaken for part of the entertainment staff.
I also often feel a bit deflated when I return back home and feel like I should be doing more with my talents… It’s good to be reminded of this from time to time.
You hit it right on the money; when abroad, I go from the sidelines to being the life of the party, and it somehow comes naturally. I’m glad this post resonated with you, and I appreciate the support!
We are ourselves in a funny situation as long-term expats. We are home in Vienna, but draw on regular visits “back home” to Romania and Turkey to anchor us to reality and set our goals and priorities straight….travel does that too, but not to the same extent 🙂 Don’t know how to label it, though 🙂
After living in Taiwan for multiple years, my perspective on life changed in so many ways. Because of this, I reevaluated most aspects of my life back in America once I moved back. Too often, we go back to our “home” countries and reacclimate to our former ways of living, despite knowing better. Sometimes, you have to give yourselves a kick in the behind to wake up from what I like to call “coasting theough life.”
Thanks for your comment, and happy travels!
wow, I really love this topic, culture shock is really a common one that every travellers experience at least one. Reading your post makes me remember my first time in Malaysia. Love it
Thanks for the comment! And yeah, for me, culture shock was an extremely positive experience. Reverse culture shock, on the other hand, is a completely different story. I noticed myself getting back into my old routines after moving back, which I refer to as sleepwalking or coasting through life. I finally decided to put my dream over the status quo, and I will keep climbing until I reach the top of this mountain.
I love this article!! My first culture shock was when I visited the motherland of Vietnam for my first time. My experience was full of emotion, educational, and learning of this rich culture in Vietnam that I haven’t get to experience until after over 30 years (being borned and raised in the US). I really want to take my husband there to experience the ‘culture shock’ (in a good way) and we sure love exotic fruits! Great post!!
Thank you so much for the kind words; I’m glad you enjoyed the article and hope you enjoy future ones! But yes, culture shock is a topic that comes up pretty often; however, people tend to think of this as a negative term. In reality, it’s a beautiful experience that helps you grow exponentially as a person.
Adam, this was great to hear your thoughts on this. I visited North Korea last month and that was a big shock and then I returned back to Dubai where I’m an expat. When I go back to the UK, it feels weird again in a different way. Hard to explain but you did it so well!
Thank you; I’m glad you enjoyed the article! I appreciate the support and hope you will tune in for future articles!
This is a very funny yet intimate observation. After reading this I now realise that I have had reverse culture shocks too. Some good and some bad. That’s the nice thing about traveling.
Thank you for your comment; I invite you to follow the site if you enjoy the content. I appreciate the support!
Interesting! As one who lives in the U.S. and the States being my fourth country of habitation, do I get reverse culture shock? I guess moving to America was a light culture shock but after 11 years here, travelling abroad & returning, it just surprises me (or not) that most folks here think that American culture is better, even though it sometimes is dominant in some places. I might get culture shock if I return to my heritage homeland in West Africa lol.
Hi Kemi, thanks for reading! Reverse culture shock is only referring to returning back to what is considered your “home” country (where you’re from or have lived most of your life).
Since I started living in Sri Lanka for a short while, I am realizing more and more details than I did as a traveler. I enjoyed your point of view. It’s a great one, thanks for sharing!
Thank you, I appreciate that!
We travel alot as a family. most of my time is spent with them. However, early in the morning, I sneak out and meet people and chat. Usually an introvert (or possibly ambivert), this is the time when I can be social and not be judged in any way and just be. Do you get what I am saying?
I absolutely understand completely; thank you for sharing! I’m not sure exactly what it is about traveling that brings me out of my introvert shell.
Interesting read Adam. After travelling around a lot of moving countries I’m not sure where home is either. I’d be interested to hear what shocked you about going back home. Maybe a future post?
Absolutely Paul; thanks for reading!
This is so well written! I tend to notice that im alot more out there when traveling because im enjoying the moment too much.
Thanks for reading! And I totally agree; something about traveling brings out the best in us that really causes us to live life to the fullest.
I think the deepest level of the deeply revelatory reverse culture shock has to do with language, if you accept the premise that every language contains at its heart the worldview of the place where it evolved. (This is why there are always terms and concepts that stubbornly resist translation–gifted translators always have to resort to transliteration, a very different kettle of fish…and try explaining that one to a landlocked culture deep in the arid interior of anywhere.)
Once you’ve achieved a level of fluency where you dream in another language, which really doesn’t take all that long, you’ll find that when you return “home,” home isn’t really all that familiar anymore…and this is an incredibly liberating experience, a true antidote to xenophobia, nationalism and parochialism.
What a well articulated response; bravo! You hit on so many excellent points, and I couldn’t agree more. It truly is an eye-opening experience. Thanks for the comment, and I’d be happy to hear your responses going forward.
[…] back; being able to relive those first moments and see all of the wonderful aspects of Taiwanese culture again was a dream come true. After settling into my dorm room, I crashed as I had little success […]
I spent a week in Taiwan, and it was an awesome experience . Traveling by trains was an existence proving its economic might. A lot of beautiful places to visit. Foods were cheap but rice was hard to find. haha! Met younger people and older ones, and its the younger generation that spoke and understand English. Taiwanese are kind and very helpful people. We’ve met a Taiwanese lady whom we asked for our direction homeward. She walked with us a few blocks away. This is a fantastic read.
I’m really surprised you had trouble finding rice in Taiwan! Haha you can find it just about anywhere
And you’re so right; the public transportation in Taiwan is amazing! And all of the people are so friendly and helpful!
I’m glad you enjoyed your experience!
That wasn’t enough. We went to the northern coast of the country on a bus. Maybe I should write about that and other out of town of Taiwan next time. It was brief and I think to write journals about it would be on the border of being stirred for a quick visit and a wishful comeback. Be safe.
This is perfect advice. Don’t wait until you retire and throw away all the opportunities while you are young and healthy. My accountant said it best, “Travel all you can early in life because the time will come when you physically can’t.”
Well said by both you and your accountant! (Side, irrelevant note: I am actually an accountant as well in my day job)
But I definitely agree with you. Life never goes according to plan, and no matter how smart, cautious, or healthy we are, we can’t predict what will happen tomorrow, much less 10-30 years down the road. Seize each & every day and maximize it to the best of your ability.
There are no doubt financial & time constraints, but when determined, each of us can make it happen.
You are wise beyond your years!