Reverse Culture Shock: Going Home After Volunteering | African Impact Blog

Author: Sarah Conner

Culture shock is a phenomenon characterised by feeling disorientated or unsettled when you are exposed to unfamiliar cultures, foods, or languages. But, what about when you return home after weeks or months of experiencing these new cultures, foods, and making new friends and memories that will surely last a lifetime? At the point of returning home, you may start to feel symptoms of ‘reverse culture shock’.

Chances are, if you’re a frequent traveller or you’ve only been out of your home country once, you’ve probably experienced culture shock to some degree. Even if you haven’t travelled at all, you’re probably still familiar with the term.

It’s a phenomenon characterised by feeling disorientated or unsettled when you are exposed to unfamiliar cultures, foods, or languages. Even though you might not feel like it is, this is a normal reaction to being confronted with a new culture. You will most likely experience culture shock symptoms until you learn to understand and feel comfortable with the culture you are being exposed to and are able to adjust to it.

This period of adjustment will naturally take longer for some people than others, and that’s okay.

volunteer-teaching-children

Travelling will expose you to new cultures, languages, and ways of life.

Returning home can be difficult when you’ve been away for a while

But, what about when you return home after weeks or months of experiencing these new cultures, foods, and making new friends and memories that will surely last a lifetime? At the point of returning home, you may start to feel symptoms of ‘reverse culture shock’.

This will likely be a completely new term to some people – I hadn’t heard of it until I experienced it first-hand. Reverse culture shock is the struggle to re-acclimatise to your surroundings, particularly the surroundings of your own home.

Everyone always asks whether it’s nice to be home, and of course you say ‘yes’, because it is, for the most part. But what about when you start to feel isolated, disorientated, and restless? I’ve always found that the hardest part of travelling is returning home, particularly when I’ve been away for long periods of time.

volunteers-joking-around

You will return home with memories that will last a lifetime.

There are some great ways to deal with reverse culture shock

For the longest time I couldn’t understand why I had this feeling about going home. Why wasn’t I happy to be returning home to my family and friends and to all the home comforts that I’d been telling myself I missed over the last few months?

But that’s the thing, whilst you’ve been away, everyone at home has been getting on with their own lives in your absence, and rightly so, and most of it will have remained the same as when you left it. But you’ll have changed. However, although you’ve changed and have all of these new experiences and stories to tell, there’s only so many times people want to hear about how you were crazy enough to jump out of a plane for charity (which I did).

It can be hard to figure out where you now fit into the mould at home, and it may take some time, but here are 5 tips to help combat reverse culture shock:

volunteering-with-friends

Your new friends can be hard to leave behind when you have to go home.

1. Communication

Talk to your family and friends about your experience, but don’t forget to ask about them and find out what they’ve been doing whilst you’ve been away. Communication is important and it is okay to talk about how you might be feeling – you can’t expect them to understand if you don’t tell them. If that doesn’t work try a different outlet that does, such as starting a blog.

2. Stay busy

Pick up a new hobby, explore a new city, or try a new restaurant. It’s important to find little things to keep yourself busy and avoid any feeling of isolation or restlessness.

3. Plan another trip

Whether it’s international or domestic, plan your next trip to give yourself something exciting to look forward to and something else to focus on.

4. Be patient

It may take some time to adjust and that’s okay, you just have to be patient with your family and friends at home and yourself.

5. Enjoy being at home

Stop comparing your experiences whilst travelling to being at home, they’re bound to be different and they’re both great in their own way.

volunteer-with-her-mom

You may miss your life abroad, but it’s important to enjoy being home.

You’re allowed to be sad that your trip has come to an end, but also be happy and excited that you’re going home to see your family and friends, and of course, your pets.

Before you’ve even boarded the plane to come home, take some time to make plans to see your family and to catch up with friends to give yourself something to look forward to.

But if you really need to, start planning for and book your next holiday.

volunteers-teaching-kids

You can always plan another trip.

Your volunteer experience doesn’t have to end

Returning home after volunteering can be tough. It’s back to reality after spending your days waking up in a beautiful, exotic town somewhere in Africa and doing amazing things to transform communities and make the world a better place. You made new friends who became family, and you’re feeling transformed, inspired, and energized  by your volunteer experience and wish it didn’t have to end.

You’re not alone.

Luckily you can stay connected to the world you left behind with our Alumni Program. It was created so you can keep in touch with the African Impact family and connect to a community of like-minded people from around the globe who understand the power of good volunteering.

But if you want a bit more, our Ambassador Program offers our most dedicated volunteers an opportunity to earn a free placement by collecting points.