Am I home?

I have heard more than one person complain about the difficulties they experience when they go back to “visit their home”. It is either too hot or too polluted or difficult to get around in the city. No matter what the nature of the complaint, the frustration is there. Yet these are the same people who might have spent the first twenty years or so of their life happily in their home country. Then why does this change occur?

Cultural adaptation is a two-way street. It is important that we adapt to our host culture when we travel to a foreign country. Since we are very much aware of the fact that we are in a new culture, we are more likely to put in a conscious effort to adapt there. But when we visit our home country, we take it for granted. After all, didn’t we grow up there, have fun with our families and friends, go to school and so on? Of course, we know how to get along with people there! We know how to carry out necessary errands like how to commute in our own hometown and do shopping – don’t we? Then, why do people still experience the problems that they do when they visit their home after a stretch of few years?

A potential explanation could be that while we prepare ourselves for culture shock in a new country, we tend to underestimate the impact of “reverse culture shock”. When we leave home, we experience the new environment and change ourselves to adapt to it. Gradually, the host environment becomes increasingly familiar to us and anything else feels strange – even if we are back in our hometown.

The question then becomes – is there anything that can be done about this? A relatively simple suggestion presents itself – do not lose contact with home. Culture shock of any kind results from unfamiliarity. When people do not visit their home for a long time or are unable to maintain regular contact with people in their home country, they feel lost when they do so after a long period of time. They tend to forget how things were back at home. Moreover, lack of regular contact with others at home tends to drive them apart. As a result, such people are more likely to feel out of loop and lonely when they visit their home. But frequent contacts with people at home and regular visits there help maintain familiarity with the home culture, thereby reducing reverse culture shock and frustration.

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6 Comments

  1. Khushi

    Very interesting. I enjoyed myself in India this time but was very much in reverse cultural shock, as per life goes. But then, as you diagnose, I was visiting after 5 yrs.

  2. Marjorie

    This is true even if you marry someone of another culture. Its only then you notice that there are ‘strange’ things about your own culture that you never knew before.

  3. Anonymous

    The country you have left behind moves ahead. Should we try to get similar training to go there as people who have never been there get? Or at least a modified one.

  4. AJ

    Anonymous, you raise a good point. In extreme cases like when an expatriate goes back home after finishing a long foreign assignment, such training may be needed. But at the very least, it would be helpful to do some kind of “catching up” before you leave so that you can prepare yourself.

  5. sands

    Interesting thoughts. We visit our home country every year and still we find ourselves alienated in many aspects. While being in the new country(culture) we absorb many things unknowingly and when faced with old ways we find it diifficult to find our way around. My elder brother pointed out to me this time that I don’t know myself how American I have become!! And here I am trying to be as Indian as I can in America!

  6. Ano

    The term culture is so used in this site. I was wondering, how would we or should we define it/ Is it a way of life or thinking?

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