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Why does culture shock and reverse culture shock happen?

In understanding how to deal with culture shock and/or reverse culture shock, it’s probably important to understand why we have it in the first place. Having moved to England for three years and back for the past three months, I’ve started to understand why a bit better.

Firstly, it’s because we compare. We compare what our home country was like. Or when we move back, we remember what our life in our host country was like. When we compare, we often end up finding faults. We find what’s wrong with our current lives, wherever we are, and we end up on the losing end.

Peace, Place, People

Secondly, it is because we lose our traditional support systems. Whether you move to a new country, or back, you lose the friends, family and people you used to rely on. That can be painful. Moving back from England was difficult for me. One day, I was having dinner with my friends. The next day, they were gone. We were suddenly 10,000 miles apart. The physical distance can result in emotional pain. For me, that manifested in the form of a physical heaviness in my heart. Sometimes, I felt as if someone had stabbed my heart, pulled it out, and left it to bleed. It was that bad. As humans, we are made for relationships. When you remove those relationships, that can be incredibly difficult to cope with.

Thirdly, wherever we go, we start from scratch again. You could be moving back to a country you’ve lived in for all your life. But in a world where change is the only constant, nothing stops changing. People change their social circles. Places change their looks. Pieces of your life move from where you left them. Whether returning or leaving, it is difficult to start from square one again. When you move, you might find that friends might have moved on with their lives. I certainly found that to be the case. When I met my friends again, I found that we just didn’t seem able to connect anymore. They seemed to have different priorities. They seemed unable to understand the difficulties of moving away. They seemed to have just moved on.

But had I? Have you moved on? Wherever you move to, it is not easy. Realising that is the first step. Being kind and forgiving to yourself is the next. Step by step, we will get there.

Please feel free to reach out to me at www.savethesocialworker.com if you would like to understand more.


This is the first of a 5-part series on dealing with culture shock.

Part 2: Dealing with culture shock
Part 3: Reverse culture shock stages
Part 4: What is reverse culture shock?
Part 5: Overcoming reverse culture shock

Keen on a career in social work? Read this!

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