You can’t prepare for the culture shock that hits you when visiting your passport country. You go, excited to reconnect with friends and supports, but something feels off. Things are not the same as they used to be.
Has the world changed so much while you’ve been away? Or is it you who has changed?
Whether it’s your first time back in your passport country or your tenth, reverse culture shock may slam into you at any moment. Here are four things you should know about reverse culture shock.
1. It doesn’t make sense
It comes as a surprise the first time. You feel anger when you forget the cultural norms and social cues that you have grown up with your entire life. When did home stop feeling feel like home? You may have expected to find so much relief in returning to the country of your birth. But now the foods have lost their flavor, the jokes have lost their translation, and the things that once held so much value are now simply memories of a former life.
Why is it like this? Why did things have to change? Nothing makes sense.
2. It can be ugly
The sudden frustration sweeps over you when you forget to buckle your seatbelt or flush the toilet paper. If these things are so simple, why can’t you remember to do them? You feel guilty when people say, “Welcome home!” and you can’t return their joy. The hot anger you feel because of other people’s careless words and offensive assumptions about your life or the people you serve. Lord, forgive them for they know not what they do.
Does no one understand? Anger, guilt, and panic dissolving into tears- reverse culture shock can be ugly.
3. It can be beautiful
One minute you may be crying out of pure frustration and the next you’re rejoicing at being reunited with friends. You may be counting down the seconds until your flight back but a few hours later you become engrossed in a deep conversation with someone who wants to learn about your ministry. You may be drowning in anxiety as you do a presentation for a crowd who understands nothing about the foreign culture you’ve grown to love, but then everything makes sense when a girl from that crowd says she wants to become a missionary like you.
Through the hardship that is reverse culture shock, comes the blessings of understanding the beauty to be found in any situation.
4. It will pass
Like the culture shock you faced your first year on the field, this too is a roller coaster journey of emotions. Reverse culture shock is hard, unpredictable and can turn ugly. But it passes. And if you can survive and thrive within the jungles of a third world country, you can navigate the jungles of your passport country too. You can learn to use your time there to also love and serve those around you.
Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Say a quick prayer. It will pass.
Natalie Arauco serves in a small, mountainous village of Guatemala. She teaches English every day at the village school all while sharing the love of Jesus with her 12-17 year old students. Natalie also works alongside the local church with their community outreach and discipleship ministries. Natalie writes about culture, missions, and her adventures in her blog: Natalie in Guatemala.