Once you qualify to teach English as a foreign language – to be a TEFL teacher – it can seem like the whole world is opening up for you. And it is. Now that you have an internationally-recognised TEFL certificate under your belt, you are free to teach anywhere in the world, or even from your home office.
If you make the bold decision to pack up your home and move abroad, we can guarantee that your life will never be the same again. That’s kinda the whole point, isn’t it? But while we can prepare you for life abroad, we also need to prepare you for life when you come home. Because if you weren’t aware, reverse culture shock is a thing.
What is reverse culture shock?
In a nutshell, reverse culture shock is the psychological and emotional adjustment of returning home after some time abroad. Also known as re-entry shock, it’s a common reaction for TEFL teachers returning home.
You might wonder why coming home would have such an effect on you. After all, you’re coming home! Shouldn’t it feel comfortable, like your favourite warm and snuggly blanket? Well yes, in theory it should, but the reality is it isn’t.
If you’ve been abroad for a while and return home, whether it be for a visit or permanently, you are expecting everything to be as it was when you left. That’s natural. But when you think about it, it’s also unreasonable.
Even if you have been away for only a few months, things would have changed. People move on with their lives, even when you’re not there. So while your city itself may have changed, your friends and family will have changed too. And that might take some getting used to.
What are the symptoms of reverse culture shock?
If you find that when you’re home you don’t feel as thrilled as you expected to, you might be experiencing reverse culture shock.
Symptoms of reverse culture shock can include:
- Feelings of isolation
- Feelings of being misunderstood
The different stages of reverse culture shock
If you’ve read about culture shock, you’ll know that it involves different stages. Reverse culture shock is the same process, but in reverse (makes sense, huh?). Just as culture shock takes place over a period of time, so does re-integrating yourself into your home life. The thing about reverse culture shock is that it can be unexpected. And this is why reverse culture shock can be problematic, because you’re not prepared for it.
Let’s look at the different stages of reverse culture shock to see what you can expect.
Stage 1: The anxiety of returning home
This stage of reverse culture shock actually starts before you leave your adopted country. You will start to feel anxious about what to expect when you return home.
Stage 2: The honeymoon stage
Similar to culture shock, the second stage of reverse culture shock is the honeymoon stage. This is the stage that you feel happy to be back and excited to see your friends. You enjoy the convenience of the familiarity that you’ve missed since you’ve been away.
Stage 3: Frustration
This honeymoon stage can soon change to frustration. You remember only the positives of your adopted country and you notice how your home country doesn’t measure up – be it in terms of public transport or cost or lifestyle.
Stage 4: Nostalgia
Not surprisingly, soon you miss your friends abroad, your lifestyle abroad, and even your job.
Stage 5: Acceptance
Over time you will appreciate your home country again. You will find your groove with your friends and family, and you will appreciate your life at home for what it is – either a permanent decision or a stepping stone.
Stage 6: Mastery
In this stage, you begin to enjoy being at home again. You have reconciled the life abroad you once had with the life you are living now, and you’re able to appreciate them both for what they are.
Read more: How to Deal with Culture Shock
So let’s look at the different effects of reverse culture shock and how you can best deal with them.
Living abroad is exciting. Every day is an adventure, whether you’re going to the supermarket or trekking in a jungle. Being at home, on the other hand, can seem a bit repetitive and boring. After all, it’s what you did for years before you went abroad. It’s probably a large part of why you left! At the same time, getting back to your routine can be comforting. Focus on that aspect of being at home and try to appreciate the familiarity. You can also spend time being a tourist in your own city to see a different side to your hometown.
Oh, the places you will go…
Aah itchy feet! Once you’ve been bitten by the travel bug it can be hard to settle down again. You might find yourself romanticizing your adopted country, conveniently forgetting any stress you may have had there. It’s almost like you’re homesick, but for your home abroad. We get it, we really do. What can you do about it? Plan your next trip, of course! (Top tip: Check out our jobs board to see where your TEFL qualification can take you next!)
One time, at band camp…
You know those people who won’t shut up about something? Whenever you have a conversation with them, they direct it back to themselves? Don’t be one of those! Your adventures abroad may have been exciting but that’s because you were there. Save the details for your mom, and don’t bore your friends with endless stories of “One time, in Taiwan…”.
You’ve changed, Muriel
Places will change, people will change. Regardless of if you’ve been away six months or six years, things will be different when you get home. Maybe your permanently-single friend is now hooked up. Or your best college buddy has a serious job. It might feel like your old friends don’t have time for you anymore. The truth is, they have gotten used to not having you around. You were the one who left, so it’s up to you to be understanding about the whole situation.
Being a TEFL teacher gives you a purpose, a structure to your day. You have certain lessons you need to plan and classes you need to teach. When you go back home, you might not have a job to go back to. You could be wondering if you should continue teaching, either at home, online or abroad, or whether you should go back to whatever you were doing before. This can lead to feelings of frustration and dissatisfaction. But don’t let that worry you – you’ll figure out soon enough what will happen next!
Read more: Motivation and Culture Shock
While reverse culture shock might not seem like much, it can still cause you anxiety and depression. Because of this, it’s important to be able to mitigate the effects of reverse culture shock.
You can do this by sharing your story with people who really want to hear it. This could be by starting a blog or social media account dedicated to your travels, your teaching and your time abroad. This way you get to spare your friends the jealousy, and maybe even inspire someone else to embark on a similar TEFL adventure.
Be gentle on yourself. Give yourself time to adjust and slip back into your old routine. At the same time, try to find new things you can do to keep you entertained and enthusiastic about life in your hometown.
Remember, you don’t need to let your travelling journey end! Why not find another TEFL job somewhere else? Or, at the very least, plan a holiday somewhere exciting in the near future.