Moving overseas was an adjustment - one you expected. Now that you're moving back home, you may be surprised that during the transition period you could learn the most from your cross-cultural experience. After living abroad, many families experience reverse culture shock when they move home. The following information will help you recognize and minimize its impact.
Those who adapted most easily to life overseas are sometimes most susceptible to the effects of reentry when they return home. The short-term effects may include the following:
- Feeling isolated or having a sense of disorientation - Everything seems familiar, but you feel different - like you don't fit in.
- Losing self-esteem - When living abroad, people were often interested in you and what life was like in America. There may be a period of regret as you lose that sense of being unique.
- Feeling a strain on previous relationships - People you were close to before you left - even those you kept in touch with - may now be difficult to relate to. You've grown and changed and your unique experiences set you apart.
- Perceiving others as disinterested - It's difficult for others to fully appreciate and understand your experience overseas. While people will be interested in what you've done abroad, nobody will be quite as interested as you.
- Romanticizing your experience - Being back home may not be perfect, but it is important to remember life would not be ideal if you were overseas. Be aware of and try to avoid the tendency to feel like "the grass is always greener."
- Experiencing changes in lifestyle - As you and your family reintegrate into American culture, you may find yourself missing the lifestyle you had while living abroad.
Over time you will readjust to living back in the United States. You may begin to see some changes that reflect your time abroad, including the following:
- A better appreciation of and respect for other cultures and countries
- A willingness to reach out to those who are different
- An ability to take risks, adapt to new circumstances and try new things
- An increased value placed on true friendships
- Long lasting friendships with those who shared in your experience
Dealing with reentry
Feelings of disorientation are a normal part of returning from an overseas tour. Understanding that is first step toward dealing with it. The following tips can help ease the reentry process:
- Take time to say goodbye to friends. Many of those who return to the United States suffer from reverse homesickness. Allow yourself time to end relationships and formally say goodbye to the place you have called home for so long.
- Find mentors who have successfully returned from an overseas tour. Friends who have lived overseas will understand and may have advice to make it a little easier.
- Bring some of your host country home. Take pictures, bring home special mementoes and stay in touch by phone, email and letters with your friends overseas.
- Use coping strategies you developed overseas. You learned to be self-reliant and developed many coping skills when you first moved overseas. Apply those skills as you experience reverse culture shock.
- Be flexible and tolerant. The challenge of adapting and readapting can bring about personal growth.
- Seek help if you need it. Military OneSource offers confidential, non-medical counseling at no cost to service members and their families. Counseling is available in person, by phone or through online chat and can help you and your family cope with readjustment.
Third culture kids
The term third culture kids is often used to describe those children who, having spent a part of their developmental years in a culture other than the parents' culture, develop a sense of relationship to all cultures while not having complete ownership of one. Children are resilient and their time overseas has probably had a positive impact. Your children may:
- Have a better awareness of all cultures
- Relate easily to others from foreign countries
- Make friends with other third culture kids
- Become helpers and problem solvers
- Feel different
- Appreciate being American
- Become high achievers
Reentry can be a time of stress, confusion and tremendous personal growth. As you go through this experience, remember that reentry is just another phase of cultural adjustment and, just as you adapted to your host culture, you will be able to readapt to life in the United States. Remember to look positively on your reentry experience and allow it to help you look at your own culture as if you were discovering it for the first time.