So your child has finally returned from their first trip overseas.
While you might be ecstatic about their return home (and they’re equally stoked to see you, too) they might not be quite as thrilled to be back.
At least after the initial novelty wears off.
Take this 19-year-old female NSW who’s currently at the end of their four-month solo trip through Europe which she described as the best year of her life.
“I had an amazing time, I learned so much about myself, mostly when things went wrong, and I’m proud of who I’ve become,” she said.
“But now I’m home and finding my world a lot smaller than it once was and I’m struggling to connect with the people I used to be close with.”
Experts call this ‘reverse culture shock’, which can be loosely defined as “the emotional and psychological distress suffered by some people when they return home from overseas (which) can result in unexpected difficulty in readjusting to the culture and values of the home country, now that the previously familiar has become unfamiliar.”
And ironically, reverse culture shock can be even more confusing and challenging than the culture shock they might have experienced while overseas as it happens in a context that used to be so familiar.
As GVI explains, “after being surrounded by the culture of a destination abroad and settling into your day-to-day travel activities, it can be a jarring experience to get back in sync with your regular routine once you get home.”
That which used to feel familiar can suddenly feel quite different, which can bring about feelings of uneasiness and alienation.
“(People) may not experience any tell-tale signs in the first few days of being home because the excitement associated with seeing family and friends – and taking in the sights and sounds of home – can sometimes delay the onset,” GVI explains.
“But eventually, you may begin to suspect that reverse culture shock is creeping up on you. It could start when you’re trying to tell your family and friends about your travel experience, but find that they’re not really getting how it made you feel.
“Maybe it’s feeling disappointed after a trip to the supermarket where you’re reminded of your favourite foods abroad, and how you probably wouldn’t find the proper version in your local food stores.”
Now, that does not sound like a good time.
So as a parent, what can you do to help your child get through it?
GVI recommends encouraging the following:
- Stay in contact with people at home while they’re away. That’s not to say your child needs to keep up to date with literally everything that’s going on back home, but checking in with the fam and their mates can ease the re-entry process.
- Likewise, stay in contact with friends made abroad – especially those who have also returned ‘home’. Since they’re able to relate to your child’s experience, they can act as a great support system.
- Continuing to work on their personal and professional development by taking up opportunities and challenges that allow your child to apply the skills they’ve learned during their trip overseas. This can help take their mind off the emotional and psychological distress of reverse culture shock and keep your child focused on the future.
- Patience. Unfortunately, symptoms of reverse culture shock can pop up without warning and linger longer than expected. It’s helpful to remind them that this is totally normal and in the words of the famous Edward FitzGerald, ‘this too shall pass’.
Despite describing this experience as challenging, the 19-year-old from NSW said she’s said she’s looking to the future.
“I’ve decided that I want to integrate what I learned on my trip into my life at home,” she said.
“The experience has also solidified my goal of one day moving to Berlin which I’m excited to actively work towards and make a reality.”