13 Mar

Reverse Culture Shock

Reverse culture shock

We have already covered many topics in our previous blogs regarding traveling to China or life in China itself.

Today we are going to look at another part of your adventure: returning home. At first glance nothing special you would say; you get on the plane and fly back to your homeland where you can once again enjoy that one favourite dish that you had to miss all this time abroad, you can see friends, family and your loved ones again and eating with chopsticks becomes a thing of the past. So far everything seems positive, but we would not publish this blogpost if something less pleasant was not to occur after returning to your own country; a phenomenon that is called ‘reverse culture shock’.      

What is reverse culture shock?

Reverse culture shock is paired with the feeling of having to adjust to your home country again after immigrating back. During your time abroad you had to get used to the differences in culture, language, food etc. When you return to your home country it works the same way: you will have to adjust again to customs and habits that you were brought up with as a child. At first glance this does not seem complicated. You only lived abroad for a relatively short period of time in your life after all. Nevertheless, there are a number of things that you will certainly notice when you pick up your daily life at home again:

The awkward language barrier that can be useful after all

One of the finest things you will notice during your stay in China is that you can actually say anything you want in public (as long as it is in a language other than Chinese, of course). Whether it’s sharing personal stories, the latest gossip or making fun of someone’s haircut, there is little chance someone other than your conversation partner will understand what you are talking about. In China, this public gossiping quickly becomes a habit. A habit hard to get rid off once you are back home, that is.

To name a personal example: After I returned from China -where I lived and studied for six months- I went to a restaurant with my family to celebrate my homecoming. Because it took quite a long time until my food arrived I got annoyed and when my food was finally brought in I looked up, and while staring the waitress almost directly in the face said: ’’I have been waiting for so long now, I hope my food isn’t cold yet…’’ The angry looks I received from my family afterwards are still seared in my brain to this day.

Life back home is expensive

Or rather, life in China is cheap. Eating out every day, going out with just 100 Yuan (about € 13.00) in your wallet, low entrance fees at tourist attractions, bargaining at local markets, low taxi fares…In China you can do a lot for little money. Even with a modest student income it is still possible to live like a king. Especially people who are working in China will notice that their disposable income is quite high and that they can basically do everything they want. When you return to the West you will find that living costs are much higher here than in China. You will notice that in your daily life you might have to economise every now and then and that you may have to wait a while to save up before you can buy something you really want.

In the beginning you might have a hard time and it might certainly take some adjusting. But luckily (reverse) culture shock is a transition: it takes some time to adapt, but every day you will find your way more and more and eventually you will feel at home in your country again. and you will be comfortable with whom and where you are.

You become ‘normal’ again

You are tall, handsome, beautiful, foreign and a real attraction for Chinese people. In daily life you will notice that Chinese people regard foreigners as something exotic and you will often be looked at because of your appearance. Many people will want to take a picture with you (either voluntarily or forced by mom and dad). In China you always feel a little bit special, even if you’re just riding the subway or queuing at the entrance of an attraction. In the eyes of the Chinese you are almost celebrity-like  and the daily question of whether you are in China for your modelling career quickly becomes the most normal thing in the world. Of course this extra attention can be annoying at times, but deep down inside most people still like the extra concern they receive from the locals and especially the privileges that can go hand in hand with this.

How different is it when you return to your own country: here you are just like everyone else, nobody gives you extra attention and no one cares if you are sitting in front of them in the bus. It is certainly true that you may long for the anonymity of daily life in your own country, but the feeling that you do not stand out of the crowd (sometimes literally) can be hard to accept when you return.

Reducing reverse culture shock

Getting used to the customs and culture of your country is something you have to go through and most people will certainly experience this to a greater or lesser extent. There are a number of things you can do to ensure a smooth transition back to your old life and to get you used to it as quickly as possible. First of all, it is very important that you talk about it when you experience issues with becoming accustomed to a different lifestyle again. Many people who have never been abroad for a longer period of time expect you to fully participate again in social activities just like that. It is important that you share your experiences in China with these people and tell them what it is that you are having trouble with. It is also important to keep in touch with friends that you have made in China because after all, coming back to your homeland does not automatically mean that you should give up your Chinese life altogether, right? Also, keep practicing your Chinese even if you are no longer in China, and keep ordering your favourite dishes at your local Chinese restaurant and you can have the best of both worlds!

Written by Ruben van Gestel, Intern at China Plus

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