Reverse Culture Shock: The Struggle Is Real

reverse culture shock

This is my fourth time living abroad in another country. Usually about the fifth month, I start to get homesick for the things I’ve left behind—American music, TV, magazines, movies. While I will always miss my family and friends (that’s not even a question), my last few months in Spain have been void of that homesickness for my own culture I usually feel right around this time.

It could be my beautiful view out my window, the current political climate, just seeing my mother since she flew over here to visit, or maybe living with someone I care about, but the things I used to miss now seem pretty trivial. I’m only back home for two months before heading to South Korea, but there is a part of me that isn’t done with Spain yet.

I’ve talked a lot about cultural identity on this blog and how that can be a difficult thing to pin down as a traveler. Leaving a place I have grown to love is hard for me because you never know when you will see it again, or how you will be a different person the next time you arrive. Revisiting Venice after studying abroad there was an entirely new feeling for me—it had been three years and I had grown and changed in ways that I couldn’t have recognized as a nineteen-year-old. Likewise, I’m sure if I happen to come back to Granada I will be a changed person then too.

It’s tempting to hold on to places when we travel or live as an expat. Change can be scary, and it can feeler safer to stay within a place we know is solid or that we’ve grown accustomed to. Nothing about my country seems safe right now, or even solid. I feel very far removed from my culture and what has been going on there for the past six months. It would be easier to just stay where I am and enjoy this little life I have created, but that’s not realistic—and there are more adventures to be had.

Reverse culture shock is another something that I’ve mentioned a few times on this blog. From personal experience, I can tell you that it is a real thing. I remember returning home for the first time and being so overwhelmed in the grocery store. Where I had only had one or two choices of cereal living in Italy, the aisle went on and on and on with dozens of options. It didn’t make me feel better, it made me feel worse knowing that most of it was going to waste.

I also missed walking the streets and having my thoughts to myself, the European sensibility of a promenade. Without it, I could only wander miles around the local baseball complex, at a loss of what I was doing and how I had been transplanted. It took going to a new culture in New York City (albeit in my same country) to feel like I was figuring things out again.

Reverse culture shock does not affect me in the same way it used to, and I can transition between different cultures much more easily now. But there is still a part of me that will always be challenged thinking about “home” from a new angle and being willing to adjust after spending time within another world.

Reverse culture and unknown cultural identity are not things that should hold you back from traveling—even if they encourage you to stretch in grow in ways that make you feel uncomfortable.

What has been your biggest case of reverse culture shock?

Keep wandering,

Alex Signature Wander


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  1. schikimikki

    I really enjoyed this blog post and I can relate big time. My biggest culture shock was when I came back to Australia from Germany a year and a half ago after living there for 8 months or so. In Germany they don’t do the whole “how are you” thing like they do here, we do it for almost every interaction whether casual or professional. In Germany, they only ask if they know you personally and if they care and you will rarely be asked. On my first morning back, I went to a bakery to buy bread, when the baker asked me how I was I just stared at him and I couldn’t answer. To this day, I find the ‘how are you’ interaction uncomfortable and forced and I avoid it because I liked living without it which I only realised in hindsight. It is funny, the little things in your life that you don’t think about or seem unimportant can be very things that are challenged when you are travelling/living abroad/returning and it seems huge initially haha.

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      Alex Schnee

      You’re so right–it’s always the little things that seem to get me the most. I love walks and people watching. Growing up in Montana made it a little difficult to do this! Thank you for sharing your story. 🙂

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  5. Staci

    The cereal example is the one I hear from so many people going through reverse culture shock. It certainly is an adjustment coming back home.

  6. Barry O'Leary

    Never really thought about reverse culture shock, but I guess so much change occurs when you’re away that it inevitable. For me going back to London from Sevilla makes me feel less safe in ways, especially up town, but also quite secure in that I know my way round. It is funny how Cosmopolitan it is and you forget just how amazing it is to see people of all cultures. Seville gets to be very samey in the end. The biggest shock about going back is the number of express stores opening up, every one is in such a rush these days Sure there are more things, maybe I will write about it when I go back the summer. Thanks for the thinking. Better dash before the bread runs out at the baker’s.

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