Reverse Culture Shock: The Four-Month Mark

Thrifty Travel Mama | Expats Move Home: A Series of Posts our Family's Repatriation ExperienceHere’s a post I jotted down in February 2015 during a particularly nauseating bout of reverse culture shock. I’ll be moving on to other topics next week, but the struggle I’m writing about today is an ongoing one for repats.

Culture shock – it hits you like a heatwave, a revolting smack in the face. What starts as a lovely dip in the sunshine (hooray for being back in the land of Target!) often ends in a full-scale meltdown… no toddler required (I can’t actually find a single thing on my list in Target).

In general, everything seems to be fine. That’s a loaded word, though, isn’t it? “It’s a fine day to fly a kite” is completely different from “I don’t need your help – I’m fine” or “Fine, have it your way.”

None of the children cry themselves to sleep or refuse to speak English or constantly blabber on about “the way things were in Germany.” (That’s just me.)

Eventually, driving seems normal again. I SO hate that. I’m sure I’ve told you before, but just to cover the bases… I hate that. I want my bike back.

And then, one fine day, you are bitten by “the bug.” This species often preys on repats and expats, but anyone is susceptible because this bug doesn’t discriminate (how P.C. of the devious little thing). The bite doesn’t seem severe, just a bit of a sting and no more serious than pricking your finger on a spindle.

You feel a bit of pain in your chest as the poison works its way to the center of your being. Before you know it, the full-fledged symptoms of this nasty sickness appear. You’ve now got oh-my-gosh-I-will-forever-live-in-the-land-of-the-free-but-oh-so-dull-and-never-travel-again-itis. Yep, that’s totally an official medical term.

The venom of envy courses through your veins, paralyzing your mind and wounding your heart. Your symptoms increase significantly when looking at Facebook posts featuring your friends and their holidays in Spain, Austria, and South Africa. Even browsing travel blogs leaves you in bitter agony.

America is so… boring. Going from one state to another isn’t nearly as exciting as hopping over to France or Belgium. Everything is SO far away here. And flying to another country is too expensive.You’ll never travel like you used to….

And on and on the deceit goes.

The problem in all of this is that this line of thinking is extremely, well, bratty.

I mean, how much of the total world population even has the ability to travel beyond where they can walk or ride affordable public transport? Are those who stay home and lead a “typical” existence, are they living worthless lives?

No, no, no.

But, the bitter taste of culture shock pollutes your point of view, and all of a sudden any possibility of remaining positive withers up and disappears as you mourn.

Discontent makes herself comfortable, and then you’re really in for it.

I’ll never travel out of this country again. I’ll never have that kind of vacation time. It’s so expensive to leave the US; how will we ever afford it again? I’m losing my second language. I know there are a zillion and one things to see in the US, but I just can’t get excited about any of them because America is so LAME.


These thoughts – shameful, repulsive, distressing, appalling, ugly, depressing – are nothing but lies.

Over the highs and lows of the last year, I’ve come to realize the antidote to this illness is thankfulness. I found I could fight the travel-homesickness like this…

Remember, self… you have an incredible husband and a strong marriage even after all you’ve been through in the past decade. Hello, you two even still LIKE each other, and that’s got to count for something. You have amazing children: handsome, smart, and healthy.

That last one should never be so easily discounted, and everything else probably pales in comparison. Travel can buy experience and perspective, and money can buy travel, but no amount of either one can cure illnesses of the chronic or terminal kind.

Today, you have each other. You have shelter, clothing, food, friends, love – and you have these in abundance. Give thanks over and over again, self, until that gratefulness defeats the ugly monsters of envy and desire.

With each outbreak of bitterness, longing, confusion, sadness – I will allow the surge of emotion to come. Fighting or denying is useless anyway.

I will remind myself these mourning waves are only temporary, even if it seems like they will never end. I will not always feel this way. I will remember emotion does not trump fact. Truth is truth, and no mere feeling can shake it.

And, I will pray. I will plead for contentment, for perspective. I will practice gratefulness and count my many, many blessings.

Have you pricked your finger on the spindle and fallen prey to homesickness? What’s your antidote for waves of irrational feelings or travel envy?

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10 thoughts on “Reverse Culture Shock: The Four-Month Mark

  1. I’ve already been trying to forewarn and prepare myself for this feeling for when we inevitably end up back in the US. I think one of the main things we’ll miss if not the main thing we’ll miss is travel, and the main thing we’ll regret is not having traveled more, being tied here most weekends. But at the same time I think you can fall into a travel envy trap in Europe just as easily – chasing the next big adventure or “perfect” vacation, comparing your trips to others, etc. Gratitude is certainly the best antidote. Then flowing from that is action – how to take that gratitude and actively reinvest it in others. Travel is such an active, go go, do do, see see thing, so I suspect part of scratching the itch/squashing the bug is channeling the active spirit in ways that flow genuinely from the gratitude you feel. So it’s probably a balance of sitting in appreciatively in in the gratitude but also pouring it back out in service. I think your blog is one way that you do that very well, actually. I’m sure there are and will be others.

    • Thanks, Rosie :). Looking back, there were definitely weekends in Freiburg where I felt annoyed having to stay home and catch up on ordinary household tasks or run errands. But, on the whole, I don’t think I regret not traveling more. I really feel we did as much as we could with the resources we had, and we did go a lot of amazing places. I know your situation is a little different in that you can’t really travel during the week or on most weekends, but I think you’ve been pretty creative with the time you do have.
      You make a good point to turn that gratitude into action. As I think about it, action really is the natural result of gratitude. It’s not often we can think of all the ways we’re blessed and not do anything to express appreciation or do for others what’s been done for us.

  2. You are describing so well the feeling of coming back. It has been 8 months for us and I still fells a pang of regrets of being back. Canada isn’t much more interesting than the US…you drive for hours and the scenery never changes…But I am guessing that eventually the feeling will fade and we will come to accept that life is different and that we have to start looking for wonderful things around us. Good luck with everything. (Suzanne)

    • Funny, I think of Canada being a bit more varied than the US (Pacific Coast – Rockies – Plains – Wilderness – Metropolis – Islands). I wonder if Canadians think the US is more varied/interesting than Canada? But it is all so homogeneous compared to Europe. Here’s to hoping our acceptance of new life comes quickly for both of us and practicing contentment in the meantime.

  3. I totally agree with your article!! We spent two years in Shanghai and then moved back to Michigan for 7 years. During that time I had all of the same feelings you have!! We were ready for a change so we are now living in Germany for 2 years. I have found that the lows are lower but the highs are higher, much higher!!! When you walk into a historic European city square surrounded by amazing buildings and café’s, the energy is palpable!! I forget about how hard it was to pay a parking ticket!!

    • I loved what you said – that the splendor of European cities and how amazing they are makes it hard to remember that things like paying parking tickets are so hard! I have read that many expats who return to the US decide to go abroad again. It often has to do with that being a “triangle” thing and not feeling like you fit. I hope you are enjoying Germany – that must be such a change from Shanghai (and Michigan!).

  4. Pingback: Expats Move Home: Saying Goodbye, Leaving Well, + Sweetening the Sorrow | Thrifty Travel Mama

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