(Editor’s Note: When you leave the environment you grew up in (physically and mentally), upon your return you may struggle with re-adjusting, given your new enlightenment. Dom London recently returned to the U.S after living in South Korea for a year and has written an article about how to get through the adjustment period without losing your new enlightened self.)
Dom London Writes:
Many things frighten people; spiders, interviewing for a new job, public speaking but sometimes the familiar can seem quite unfamiliar. Leaving one’s comfort zone into the unknown, only to return and feel like a stranger can be a very disorienting experience. Reverse culture shock is something many expats experience once they return to their respective homes after establishing new lives abroad. How does one bounce back after a long hiatus? After a few interviews and dissecting my personal transition from living abroad to home life, I was able to identify some of the challenges many expats have faced and came up with a few practical recommendations.
Challenge number one: My friends and I don’t relate to one another anymore. This has been a running theme in the conversations I’ve had with many expats who’ve returned to America after living abroad. A year living in a foreign country can change a person or at least change their perspective on the world.
Shari of Philadelphia lived in South Korea for two years. She returned with a Teach for America Job and currently lives in Texas.
“Things were quite different. Actually things were the same, I guess I was different. I had a hard time having conversations with some people simply because what they were talking about just wasn’t of interest to me anymore. I could see that everyone was doing the same things and acting the same way and I wasn’t into what they were into anymore. More than anything I think it was interesting to see that on Social Networks people would seem so enthused about when I returning home but once I got home the hype was over. No one really made much of a fuss that I was home. I speak to my friends that I met abroad at least once a week though and one of my friends who moved back to London had a similar experience to mine. I learned to just accept people for who they are.”
Colisha, from Atlanta Georgia still resides in Korea but when she went for a visit back to the states her story mirrored Shari’s. “I took a short break and I was home for a few months before I returned to Korea. I felt really out of place. It was good to see my family but then when it came time to have in -depth conversations, no one was on the same page as I was. There were jokes no one understood and basic things that happened day to day I couldn’t really share with people back home because no one would get what I was talking about. Friends that said they couldn’t wait to see me or that they missed me I don’t even think I heard from them during the time I was home. Also, even though Korea has been rough, I look at the economy and how things are going back in the states, I am not in a rush to go back.”
Interestingly enough, what can ease some of the anxiety about living abroad is having an anchor back home. After an experience like living in a foreign country for one plus years expats could always use the help of their friends to help them assimilate back into their culture. I too was worried that I would return home only to find that my friends and I would be strangers to one another. My solution
• Being vocal about what your needs are should be the first step to making your transition a smooth one.
• Introduce dialogue about time apart has or hasn’t changed things between you and your friends.
• This is a perfect opportunity to share something with your friends they may not otherwise be familiar with; perhaps a new cuisine or fun facts about the places you’ve been.
• Inquire about any new and exciting things they may have encountered during your time apart.
• Accept that things will be different and people do grow apart.
Challenge three: What if I can’t find a job?” The economy is crashing and burning!” This is what Jordan of Virginia shouted when I asked him how he felt about returning home after traveling South East Asia for nearly four years.
“The great thing about being an ESL teacher is that I can pack up and essentially go anywhere in the world and secure a job teaching. I feel like the profession is respected way more abroad than it is on the home front. “While many individuals feel like the job application process is nothing more than a scene from the Hunger Games being an adventurous expats can have its perks and stand out on your resume against other candidates. According to an article in Under Cover Recruiter, the seven qualities most in demand from employers are:
• Inner strength
Whether we want to admit it or not expats are a different breed of individuals. It takes a great amount of fortitude to pick up and live in another part of the world for an extended period of time. The things I’ve gathered and have been able to use on my resume were aspects such as cultural diversity awareness, emotional intelligence, self-starter, great at solving challenges. I could go on but the point I am trying to make is that expats should give themselves more credit, not just for the professional growth they may undergo abroad but the personal growth as well. Those are attributes employers appreciate as well.
Challenge number four: I don’t want to move back in with my parents
“Independence was a huge accomplishment for me,” Said Samantha of Canada. “I lived with my parents even all through college and moving abroad was the first time I had experienced having my own space, coming and going without being questioned, leaving dishes in the sink until I felt good and ready to clean them. I loved having my own space. The first time I went home was during Christmas vacation. I was so happy to see my parents but it wasn’t that long before I got a little annoyed at being questioned about where I was going or not being able to entertain company comfortably. I know I can always come home if I need to but if I don’t have to I’d rather keep my independence.”
Parents will be parents. The plus side to returning home could be home-cooked meals, loving folks, no rent, and saving any money you might be making at the time. I completely understand what Samantha was going through. After years of traveling and living in three different states and two countries’ being at home wasn’t the greatest idea but if you can tough it out, until you are able to get your own digs. Show that “growth” and “development,” you’ve gained being abroad as a way to show your parents what a good job they did raising you.
• Be helpful. Ask how you can help before being asked.
• Communication is the golden goose egg. I can’t express enough how much of a difference it makes when you are clear about what you need. If its space you need, express that. You will be surprised how much parents do understand. Besides, if you’ve been out of the house for a long time, your presence can also be an adjustment for them as well.
• Keep yourself busy. Just because you live at home doesn’t mean you always have to be at home. Find activities to do outside of the house if being inside is a challenge.
Challenge number five: I have overall anxiety about being home. Let’s face it. It isn’t always easy to pinpoint what our fears are but what is important it to know that they can manifest themselves in stressful ways. Your body is the medium through which your emotions react to external stimuli. I often use the phrase, “over stimulated.” If I feel there is too much activity around me I tend to get stressed out.
My personal transition from living abroad to being back home has been both pleasant yet…weird. After a 17 hour flight all I wanted to do was sleep, and sleep I did. For about two days. I stayed in a nice hotel, ordered room service and took a deep breath. I was home. After a year of bowing, reading Korean, eating food I did not particularly like, being alone, I was home. The best way to describe how I felt arriving home was that I was a visitor. I saw Philadelphia with a new pair of eyes. I went to the museum as if it were for the first time. I scheduled a massage and acupuncture appointment to relieve the tension I had accumulated from the arduous plane ride. I was even meticulous in when I let people know I was home. It wasn’t because I didn’t want people to know but it was because I wanted to make sure I was ready. Expats, it’s alright to feel a little uneasy about transitioning but remember home is what you know. This should be easy.
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(Posted by Dom London)