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August 18, 2009 / rinta chos

Reverse culture shock

I still haven’t fully overcome the feeling of solitude and sorrowfulness that I’m going through these past few weeks. I know that I have overcome my failure in SNMPTN and I need to let go of my friends, I got that. This feeling of loneliness and sorrowfulness was caused by something different, something I might now understand (after some thoughtful research with Google).

I always thought, what could be easier than being home, in Indonesia? I grew up here, fully comprehend the culture and how the society and system works, I speak the language, and of course I’m familiar with most of the things in Indonesia. After all, it’s my home.

When I was in America, during my homesick phase, I always dreamed of being in Indonesia. I said to myself that it would be great to be back to my comfort zone, where everything’s familiar and comfortable. It would be splendid to be back in the place where I’m encircled by my family and friends.

However, I discovered and later now understood that returning home after a significant overseas experience might cause something called: Reverse culture shock.

According to Google, culture shock is triggered by a sudden, drastic change in environment, so it makes sense that travelers will experience a second wave of culture shock upon returning home. The phases of “reverse culture shock” parallel the phases of the initial culture shock you will experience, though they will differ in length and intensity.

From what I’ve gathered, reverse culture shock has a similar phase like the normal culture shock. First, honeymoon phase. Second, the crisis phase or homesick phase. Third and last, recovery and adjustment.

I’ve experienced the honeymoon phase. Twice.

Once, when I was in America, during my firs departure, I was excited. Everything seems to be perfect and full of delight and joyfulness, nothing seems to sadden me, and I didn’t even miss my family and friends. It’s an initial stage of euphoria; I was glad that I came to America.

Second time, I finally back to my home country, Indonesia. It was a relief to come back after those 10 months overseas. It’s comforting to be surrounded by the comforts of home and of course, with the people who thrilled to see me. The phase stays until, well, a couple weeks ago. It took nearly 2 months before I realized that both me personally and my home environment had changed, and dude, before I even blinked my eyes, the honeymoon phase was over for me.

I’ve experienced the crisis or homesick phase. Once in America and right now I’m suffering from it.

During the Americano time, after I’m done with my honeymoon phase, I was suffering from the crisis phase. I felt like I’m the loneliest human being in the whole universe. I was aggravated with all the decisions I’ve made before. I even said to myself that I regret to come to America. I should’ve just stay home and be in my comfort zone. That was the time when I need to adapt well with the new environment, adapted well with the culture. I knew that if I refused to adapt with the new things, I might as well stayed at home.

This is the whole point of this posting. I’m currently, undoubtly suffering from the 2nd crisis phase. The whole thing that I experience right now is connected to those I went through when I was abroad; frustration, loneliness, dejection, irritated is some emotions that I’m facing.

According to Mr. Google, the crisis phase of reverse culture shock consisted of 5:

1. Surprise: One element of reverse culture shock that is different from the initial culture shock of traveling abroad is the element of surprise. When venturing to a new place with unfamiliar customs, language, and norms, most people expect to face some adjustment challenges. Home, on the other hand, is the place I know better than anywhere else, it’s the place where I fit in naturally. Since there is no apparent reason to expect culture shock upon re-entry, the crisis phase comes as a shock to those who are unaware of reverse culture shock. (Me)

2. Realities of home: Home is not what I expected it to be. While experiencing culture shock and homesickness abroad, I idealize and romanticize Indonesia’s environment. Upon returning, the imperfections and annoyances that you had forgotten about will no longer be invisible, which can be disconcerting.

3. Reverse homesickness: While abroad, I had developed a routine, adapted to a new way of living, and formed significant friendships. Leaving this behind is difficult.

4. Changes in me and others: Life doesn’t stop while you’re away, and things at home will be different when you return. The changes in your friends and environment may be subtle, or they may reveal themselves only under certain circumstances, which are usually unpredictable and therefore unsettling. Because the home you left is not quite the home you are returning to, you may find yourself confused and anxious.

“You will also begin to view your friends and family differently. It can be frustrating to find that they don’t think outside the “bubble” of their college, work, or community environment. Friends’ reactions to your return may also be disillusioning, particularly if they seem disinterested in your experience abroad.”

“I had a very hard time readjusting to the US. I had changed so much and seen so many things, and I had a hard time relating to others and realizing that they had also changed during the time I was away. I was surprised that my friends didn’t really want to spend much time looking at my pictures and listening to my stories.” — University of Pennsylvania Student, Study abroad in Russia”

Rintachos : It’s not that my friends didn’t want to spend time and listen to my story.They were very eager to hear about it.I loved to share it with them but I can’t fully share it. It’s something that people need to experience first then they’ll fully understand how I feel while I was there.That’s why I feel easily connected with another returnee, because we’ve been through the same experience.

5. Blindness to culture shock: When I traveled abroad, locals recognized me as a foreigner. People were understanding of my disorientation, and were quick to offered help. At home, on the other hand, I was expected to be a fully functioning member of society. Because I look like I can fit in just perfect, people will see no reason to reach out to me, and because reverse culture shock is not a well-recognized phenomenon, they will likely be less sympathetic to my adjustment needs.

“People will assume that, because you come from the same place as they do, you know how everything works. In fact some things may have changed in your absence. Because you look and sound as if you ‘belong,’ people will be unaware that you are somewhat disoriented.”

Recovery and adjustment

It’s a relief. And I hope I’ll experience it twice.Soon.




Leave a Comment
  1. hafi / Aug 19 2009 9:59 am

    ooh gw baru tau ada yg namanya reverse culture shock (rck)
    apakah setelah 6 bulan di sg pas gw balik gw bakal ngalamin rck?
    yang sabar aja ya rin, kalo misalnya kangen ngeliat bule main aja ke jalan jaksa, haha
    (eh bener ga sih jalan jaksa itu yg banyak bulenya?)

    • rintacos / Aug 19 2009 12:34 pm

      gue jg baru tau setelah ngegoogle fi haha.
      mungkin, mungkin setelah lebih lama lo di spore terus lo balik baru lo ngalamin rck. atau mungkin setelah lo selesai di ntu dan lo kerja lagi di indonesia(which i highly doubt). HAHAHA. iya bener kok jalan jaksa yang banyak bulenya. makasih fi sarannya! haha

  2. adelia / Aug 19 2009 4:54 pm

    my afs seniors told me that our real adventure actually starts the moment we step outside the airport in Jakarta, which is now. Nobody said it was easy, but if they can made it, we’ll make it through rin 🙂 We’re all in this together, and i do feel what youre feeling right now. And thats what returnees are for, anytime you feel shitty about being home and weird, you can always run and talk to the others who understand and feel the same way as you do. Thank god we all seven in highschool are together facing this culture shock thingy, kalo ngga gue bisa nyetres hehe. The thing is, keep your smile and be sure we’ll do great here, and remember, extra year is only for the cools! we are cool, rinta 😀 oke maaf ya gue makin ga nyambung.

    • rintacos / Aug 21 2009 12:39 am

      hahahah good point del! the most suckiest part of being an exchange student is now! hopefully I’ll be done with this reverse culture shock thingies soon, I hate this kinda of shitty feeling.
      Yep.we’re all in this together. 7 of us are way too cool to have only 3 years of high school, we need extra year. 🙂

  3. nisa / Aug 20 2009 4:15 pm

    whoa kok sedih ya huhu

    • rintacos / Aug 21 2009 1:05 am

      hehehehe gini nih kehidupan.

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