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Reverse Culture Shock: an underestimated expats' issue

expat woman with a luggage hugging her child

What could be more adventurous, enriching, or challenging than moving abroad to either study, start a new job or just live in a different place? Not many things, actually. However, we must be aware that when our sojourn abroad comes to an end and we return home, we may encounter some emotional issues and difficulties.

It’s the Reverse Culture Shock (RCS) effect.

Most expats are unaware of it when they leave their motherland for the first time. Generally, they very well know that they will have to change their habits, adapt to a new environment, learn a new language and face the multiple challenges that a new life abroad may bring along: all the things that contribute to cause the so-called Culture Shock, a feeling of disorientation and discomfort that one experiences when moving to a foreign country.

In 1955, the Norwegian sociologist Sverre Lysgaard proposed a U-curve model to describe the stages of cross- cultural adjustment: first is the ‘honeymoon’ period, followed by a bout of crisis and third is the adjustment. Finally, in the mastery stage, is a gradual adaptation to the new culture, familiarity with new practices and the regaining of a stable emotional and psychological state.

The same pattern is commonly experienced by expats when they return to their homeland.The reason being is that when you spend a considerable amount of time away, you undergo the changes that make you grow both in terms of emotions and experiences.You learn how to deal with people of different backgrounds, religions, ethnicities, to become more open-minded, to enjoy different foods and types of entertainment.

But, while you are away, you are not the only one to change. In your native country, new events may transform the fabric of your community.The lives of your loved ones may change too: your parents get older, your friends get married, have children and the political situation may become different.

So, when you go back, it means returning to a place that you consider home but actually it is no longer, and you feel out of place.

Even the organisations that transfer their employees abroad often underestimate RCS.They tend to consider only the logistics of the return (flights, accommodation, schools), not its emotional impact.

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This article I wrote was first published by FOCUS Information Services ( in their Magazine in March 2018. If you are telling others about it, please make sure you credit both me and FOCUS Information Services.

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