reverse culture shock

Reverse Culture Shock: How to Adjust Back to Your Life in Your Hometown

There is such a thing as reverse culture shock. When a local hire or even foreign talent in the United States feels too much at home working and living in their assigned locations, they may find it hard to go back to their former lives in their hometown or country of origin.

Although not generally recognized, as it largely goes unaddressed, “reverse culture shock” can strike anyone. As some of the interviewees in The Yucatan Times describe their journey, the longer they stayed away from their homeland, the harder it is to reintegrate.

This also goes for Americans who get used to life outside of the US. For example, one American executive who worked in Australia for 20 years, for example, had gotten used to the relaxed work life Down Under that he was hard-pressed to run again with the younger wolves once he returned to corporate America.

As pointed out by the U.S. Department of State, these Americans who had adjusted so well in their adopted country had learned to speak its language with an ease that would make them almost native speakers. They subconsciously adopted the business etiquette, societal norms, and perhaps even values of their foreign colleagues to such a degree, that upon returning home they find that these same behavioral patterns that made them welcome in Asia, for example, now separate them from their fellow Americans.

The changes change them, so to speak. Something life-altering also happens whether a foreign talent is moving away from or moving to the US.

Where meetings in the US can be more heated or direct to the point between the staff and bosses, a foreign talent used to politeness and formal salutations may not welcome this approach. Soaking in new information or insights, the way Asians may let time pass before they interject, can help him ruminate and give a response favorable to everyone.

Global mobility specialists have to deal with reverse culture shock — and unlike their human resource colleagues, they are faced with two situations. There are the usual cases of culturally repatriating American executives who had spent a majority of their working lives in other countries. Then there is the responsibility of preparing assignees who had intensely immersed themselves in American culture, even if they experienced some form of discrimination but who must be able to adjust back to their way of life in their own country.

Global mobility specialists are very much aware of and have helped companies and employees adjust to this dilemma. It is in their interest to help both assignees and expatriates, as well as that of the organization’s. The smoother and painless the reintegration back home is, the abler the talent can function, and greater the chances of his readiness should he need to be recalled for foreign duty again.Here are a few tips on how to they help assignees make this second level of adjustment:

Advise them to do a little research months before flying back home.

It may be hard to swallow, but assignees and expats alike will be better prepared if they do not assume that things at home are right where they left it years ago. Idioms, pop culture references, and internet lingo change all the time. Old friends who could have provided rock-solid support might have transferred to another state. A once sedate hometown has suddenly been transformed to a bustling metropolis because of new property developers and an economic boom. Even the smallest of rule can drive a returning expatriate batty, says the BBC. For example, an American executive used to smoking in any part of the city in China might find the no-smoking laws in several U.S. states too rigid. All those changes can add to the expat or assignee’s loneliness and sense of alienation. Forewarned is forearmed. The more changes he is aware of, the more prepared he might be.

Ask assignee or expat to remain connected with the communities of his adopted country.

As the BBC elaborates, Americans who had grown so comfortable in Chinese cities would feel less angst during repatriation if they spend some of their recreational time in activities and festivals sponsored by the Chinese embassies in the US. In the same way, Asian and European assignees who had grown to love American movies, burgers, and business networking can become active in US.-driven fund-raising drives, hobby groups, and professional groups back home.

At the same time, help him continue to communicate with the colleagues he had made in his second country. Social media and communication tools like Skype can make the adjustment easier. Through regular calls, the assignee or expat may just feel that he has not really severed his connection with this part of his life.

Provide him closure that will heal.

As a global mobility specialist, you can do your bit by throwing your departing assignee or expat a bit of a party before he leaves. Days before that, take him around his favorite destinations. Ask the assistance of the network that he has grown closer to, such as diplomats, the local officials, his building owners like California Corporate Housing. Give him souvenirs and mementos from his stay. All these small acts of kindness will bring him the closure that he will need to move on. At the very least, he will remember you – and might be more than willing to jump back into another foreign or US assignment should you call on him again.