Let's start this one off with a little global mobility quiz for you:
What is the term utilized to describe the expatriate symptoms related to the unexpected difficulty in readjusting upon repatriation?
- Culture Shock
- Expatriate Adjustment Syndrome
- Reverse Culture Shock
If you answered A, you are going the wrong direction in the journey. If you answered B, you are probably making this harder than it needs to be (and let's hope that's not symbolic of the rest of your life!). If you answered D, you’re wrong, but onto something as this might help with the correct answer, which is C...reverse culture shock.
One of my favorite cultural experts in the world, Dean Foster, explains:
“Reverse culture shock is experienced when returning to a place that one expects to be home but actually is no longer, is far more subtle, and therefore, more difficult to manage than outbound shock precisely because it is unexpected and unanticipated."
Expatriates come back from assignment transformed, with a whole new perspective, and as soon as they return, they realize that things at "home" have also changed.
One of the most famous lines from The Wizard of Oz is "click your heels together three times and say 'there's no place like home' and you'll be there." Many are caught off guard that some sort of expat ruby slippers were going to be needed for a smooth re-entry back home. Their surprise is that Kansas isn't the Kansas they remember. (Thanks Robin Pascoe for calling out that connection to a story we all know!)
Read this article to gain a better sense of what reverse culture shock is and why it exists, along with what you might consider doing to improve the expatriate experience during repatriation.
Then watch this two-minute Relo Tip Tuesday video on the subject:
Just like expatriation, repatriation has its psychological phases that are unexpected and daunting. Most notably, encountering reverse culture shock when returning home is a surprising situation that's overlooked by both expats returning and their businesses calling to come home. Like culture shock, reverse culture shock has a number of stages; imagine this to be a U-shape curve. At first, you may be excited to return home – seeing friends and family members, wearing the rest of your wardrobe, and eating at your favourite restaurants. This initial euphoria eventually wears off, and that's when you find yourself feeling out of place in your own culture. This is the experience of reverse culture shock; it's the bottom of the curve and often the roughest part.