Reverse Culture Shock: Home for the Summer

I’m home for the first time since I left for overseas 2 years ago. It’s not important where home is, but I’ll tell you it’s considered a “first world” nation. It must be because you can get anything and everything you want here, any time day or night. There’s more than 30 varieties of cold cereal and no less than 52 assorted chocolate bars gracing the shelves of my local 24/7 supermarket. Cars, furniture, appliances, clothes… It can all be had in an instant, no money down with 36 months to pay. My brain is on overload!

Everyone is overweight here, getting fat and fatter. They keep their eyes straight forward as if saying “hello” as we pass would be a breach of privacy. Shootings, mass and small are no big deal. It’s just how it is. Maybe that’s why they keep a distance. It sure isn’t because of COVID.

Capitalism has triumphed in this place called home. TV and radio pound away at psyches, insisting on what I need to be happy, what I need to find love. A shiny new car I can’t afford is a good start. Accumulated objects here have replaced friends, family, a feeling of connectedness. It’s business as usual, everyone kept satiated with what they have been programmed to buy with money they have not yet earned.

This corporate-created/managed reality of my home nation must have crept over me so subtly when I lived here that I hadn’t noticed until I looked through new eyes, eyes that have seen something better in a far-off land that my government’s travel alerts and broadcast news make look unsafe. It’s all part of an effort to keep dollars at home, feeding the corporate machine that owns our politicians and pays big money for broadcast advertising.

I’ve been living these past years in what was once termed a “third-world country,” now relabeled, “developing nation.” People here don’t rent storage lockers to squirrel away excess possessions they didn’t need in the first place. Designer clothes aren’t a thing. Labels don’t make the wo/man. Life unfolds here at a reasonable pace. Less tense. Less strained. And people smile. They say hello and nod in recognition of each other. You’re part of something. Friends, family and neighbors count. It’s not just me, me, me, with more stuff, more money.

If the country where I’ve been living is a “developing” nation and my home country is considered “developed,” something is terribly, terribly wrong with the goal. I, for one, can’t wait to get back to my “developing” nation. Am I the only one who feels this way?

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23 thoughts on “Reverse Culture Shock: Home for the Summer

  1. So many truths here and also some I don’t relate to (doesn’t mean it’s not true, just not my experience) We ‘accidentally’ returned to our birth country as we moved from one international post to the next but got caught in the pandemic travel restriction net (also the ineptitude of the government agencies of our ‘third world’ nation which resulted in lost professional qualification documentation causing us to lose the opportunity for further expansion of our learning journey) We always intended to bring our knowledge and experience back with us to help enrich our birth country, we never sought to be rich or exclusive and fully committed to work for charitable foundations in education services. For us, the culture shock was the reality we had to face that our country of birth had not moved forward from its sad past, the healing we imagined had not happened and true equity for all people did not exist.
    I feel I’ve attended too many funerals in these last 14 months (I’m very fortunate that none of these has been literal and my family and friends have survived the COVID virus so far) The losses have been my career (which we know is really our daily breathe), my starry-eyed idealism, my optimistic world view and my belief in the basic goodness of the human creature.

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  2. I don’t really think this article discusses reverse culture shock at all. I moved back home three years ago after 15 years abroad (yes I’d go home every summer) and my wife and I certainly experienced reverse culture shock, but not as OP describes, which in my opinion isn’t really culture shock.

    For us moving back home was more about how much we had to do on our own like find a place to live, manage Healthcare, buy a car (my first ever as I went abroad in mid 20s and had never purchased one before), dealing with less disposable income, and what was truly the hardest for us – coming into a situation where the we were the only new people and the only ones with our international mindset.

    That’s what’s been difficult for us. My wife was born and raised in a developing nation and has a broader perspective on the wrlorld than I, but still our time overseas continued to help us be more adventurous, open-minded, and curious. Not that people back home in the US where we aren’t that way, but as with many of the readers, so much of our lives has been shaped by our experiences abroad, and we haven’t found a community back home that relates to that. It’s not bad that they don’t, it’s simply different experiences.

    As a new hire in an international school, you’re brought in with others to a new school and a new place and bonds can be quickly formed through these mutual experiences. Back home, we came to jobs where our colleagues had been working for 10, 20, 30 years at the same place with their own established groups.

    We have felt like outsiders in our own country.

    Again, all of things aren’t bad, but rather just the feelings of reverse culture shock we’ve experienced since moving back home.

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  3. So agree. I was in the Middle East and saw many people struggling to make a living. But I almost feel more at home there than the place I was born. I have a hard time understanding the greediness and selfish ways of the people around me at home. There is never enough of anything for them. I feel alone in the midst of my own people. Always want to go back

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  4. I am Canadian, and I am fairly positive the person who wrote the initial article is from the USA. I lived in the US for two years, and I am appalled by the way that big money runs your politicians,: thru contributions during elections, lobbying, and by giving former regulators cushy, high-paying jobs once they leave office (IF they benefit the industries they are supposed to regulate).

    The US is driven by $$$$, pure and simple. Yes, Biden and others are trying to change the system, and I wish them luck.

    Why do you suppose a populist such as Trump got elected? Because his followers are mostly those left behind, mostly because the factory jobs have been lost to automation. Result: more robots, fewer good middle-class jobs, more $$$ for business owners, and….viola, angry people + Trump.

    Wake up people. When the next populist presidential candidate comes along, chances are he or she will be smarter and smoother than Trump. That’s when the you-know-what will really hit the fan.

    I am a capitalist, but I think a mixed system is best. We regulate football, boxing, hockey, etc and we should regulate capitalism as well. Read Adam Smith for more on this.

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    1. I have lived in Vancouver twice in my life. Late 90’s when my son was born there (we all have Canadian citizenship) and then it was a fantastic laid back city. Returned in 2015 and we lasted 18 months. It is the most horrible, soulless greed driven place, set up for millionaires and billionaires, I have ever been to. I am told Toronto is no better. Look at all the stats; gun crime, death by police, homelessness etc and Canada is second only to America. It is the most soulless greed driven place I have ever been. My Hungarian friend nailed it when she told me “Canadians have learnt to smile and confused it with friendship”. Getting a lesson from a Canadian on a soulless greed driven county is a laugh out loud moment.

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    2. I agree, Stephen, that To and VA are like that. But, judging all of Canada by Toronto and Vancouver is like thinking the entire US is like New York City or LA. But even in Toronto and Vancouver we have health care for all, very few shootings, and best of all, a limit on how much any person or corporation can contribute to a political campaign ($5,000).

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  5. It is interesting that the teacher here doesn’t seem to make the connection between international schools and capitalism. Anyone who has worked in one understands that, more often than not, the parents sending their children to them are those who have benefitted from capitalism directly, particularly expats in developing countries. Bar a few, international schools rely on capitalism to exist. Many are also run for profit. And, from my experience, we often teach the students who will also benefit from it.

    I think they raise relevant points about their home country – I have certainly experienced similar feelings. But they also need to understand that many people from their developing country will not have the wages (and perks, such as health insurance) that they have.

    A rather one-sided article.

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  6. Dont kid yourself, people in LDC want the same things that people in DC have, Why do you think so many want to come? Yeah, its fun living in a LDC like the Philippines but 80% of the pop would leave for the US, Canada, etc tomorrow if they could. Life is hard in these countries and they would take the so called culture shock in a DC without a second thought. A minor concern indeed.

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    1. Right. It’s a bit ironic for someone living on an expat salary in a LDC to consider that they are living the LDC lifestyle. It’s a very privileged outlook and, to be brutally accurate, arrogant attitude to wax nostalgic about LDC “priorities” that are often actually the result of necessity or lack of options.

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    2. They must really be desperate if they want to go to America. A country where diabetics go without insulin, mass shootings are a national pass time and families go bankrupt if their child gets cancer. No. No. No. No thanks.

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  7. You cannot fairly paint every home country with the same brush but there is a consumer mentality in North america and a little less in Europe, but compared to the developing nations it is rampant. Covid-19 has opened people’s eyes to the fragility of our society and the infrastructure that supports it. God help us if that support and infrastructure tumble down….we will be truly lost.

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  8. This has all the faux-disdain and self-congratulation of someone who’s only been overseas for a few years. I went through the same phase. Once you’ve worked internationally for a decade or longer, your understanding becomes more nuanced. Do home countries have egregious problems? And narrow-viewed people? Of course. But you know what, so do our host countries; however, we’re shielded from a lot of it through our ex-pat, making a small fortune compared to locals bubble and (probable) lack of local language.

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    1. Spot on. Every country has haves and have nots. But when the FWC like the US is “supposed” to mirror equality, and Covid has brought home the fact that there really are high levels of poverty (as well as the recent UN report), I guess it “suprises” some people. Unfortunately humans love to complain, but the grass is rarely greener on the other side.

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  9. To be honest, I’m a bit put off by this article.

    Yes. There is certainly culture shock the first couple of times you return home. Yes. Living in a developing country, you learn you can easily live without all the things family and friends back home seem to “need.” But the “capitalism bad/developing country good” tone of this seems narrow-minded and self-serving to me.

    It feels oblivious to the probable unfortunate reality of a lot of citizens in the developing country who don’t live on an expat salary and have the option to leave the country if things start getting too oppressive. It focuses too blindly on one aspect of the first-world country, ignoring not only the benefits it offers but the vast opportunities it has afforded the writer and reader. The reason we can choose to live and work in a developing country is because we had the privilege of education and are unencumbered in ways that many people in developing and underdeveloped countries are not. We don’t have to care for our parents and grandparents and our greatly extended family, for example. We don’t feel pressured to spend our life savings on a funeral or baptism. And so on.

    If we are basing the bulk of our measure of what is “terribly wrong” on the culture of materialism, we don’t have to leave the first-world country to find a huge culture of minimalism. The rise of the “tiny house” is one tip of this iceberg. If we are basing it on violence, we don’t have to go far into that developing country to find that while our expat cocoon is safe, the local female population, for example, or the child without rights is not.

    I’m not dissing the “developing” countries. I love them. I love the life I live in them. I love the way they teem with culture. I love the people. I love a lot about them. But I see the reality. I see the faults. I see the problems. I see the benefits of my home country as well. It’s not all or nothing.

    It’s one thing to say that our priorities regarding material things have changed after living abroad. It’s too cringingly “woke” to judge people back home because theirs haven’t. Are they good people? Are they bad people? That’s the measure to use, in my opinion. And I find most people back home and in the developing world are good. However, both places have bad people.

    Final thought – the reason a country has moved from “third world” to “developing” is because capitalism has taken hold in some way. Now that is where we have to be very vigilant because it is in the developing world where capitalism is at its worst – taking advantage of people without as many rights and protections.

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  10. I have been overseas out of my birth country since 1976, with only a short, unwanted and forced 6 year break. That country has not been “home” for decades. I don’t see it ever being “home” again. Despite family still living there, I have no desire to return, am concerned for my and my family’s safety any time I am in the birth country, and will likely die in my adapted home, where I base my international teaching out of. It is a pity, given the high hopes and dreams behind the country’s founding that it has fallen so far. When I moved to my adapted country, I shed nearly 15000 pounds of household goods and “things” and shipped less than 2000 pounds of “things” I actually use.
    Now, I don’t blame “capitalism” for the faults-it has a place in the blame game, but I hold the citizens of the country primarily responsible for forgetting the first rule of freedom: with freedom comes responsibility

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  11. Living in a “developing nation” for 5 years has most definitely changed my perspective on material possessions and has given me a much more critical view of Western culture and its values. My experiences have left me with a minimalist attitude, a drive to buy “used” and make do with what I have. I improvise or borrow instead of running out to buy gadgets I might only use once or twice. I found returning to my own country much more disconcerting than moving away to teach in Asia. Most of all, I cherish the warm connections with expats and locals in my host countries as well as fellow travellers and look for ways to reach out and connect with people from those cultures who are now in my country.

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  12. Yes, this rings several bells. But not all. Really all depends on your surroundings and what/who is important to you. Your account is a reflection of your friends and surroundings stateside. I haven’t given a flying intercourse about what the Joneses have or are up to stateside for a long time now. Why should I start now?

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  13. Mixed feelings about this.

    I can sympathize with people who point out that larger corporations have taken up an ever increasing amount of public space in many places. And I have no problem musing over cultural critiques. That said, there are more ways than ever to escape that reality in different forms.

    But the article reduces the developed nation in question into a caricature of some oligarchy that controls the minds of its citizens/consumer drones. This description does not accurately describe developed countries.

    Capitalism is nothing more than the voluntary exchange of goods and services. if you want to place limits on it, fine, there are many reasons of various degrees of legitimacy for doing so. But there are reasons why developed nations are developed: rule of law, free trade, property rights, sound money and a transparent fiscal system. There, now everyone is an economic development expert.

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  14. Completely agree!! I’m back in Colorado to spend the Summer. My friends are more involved than ever in furniture, expensive cars, getting a bigger house in a better neighborhood and, and, I don’t get it. They are worse than ever into buying things. It’s interesting that my overseas life is more or less dismissed when I bring up certain antidotal events. It’s like my life doesn’t seem to hold validity in their world of stress and monthly payments. I’m seen now sort of like a drop out. Such is life. I hope we will always be friends.

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  15. Wow! So well written! I like your term “wo/man”! Didn’t know the term “third world country” got replaced by “developing country” either. I feel behind the times here. I have never lived in other country but do feel something is wrong when we don’t even bat an eye when there’s a mass shooting or homeless on the street. We don’t know our neighbors. People are so isolated, they don’t even share meals together. The wealthy must hire multiple nannies just to keep up with affording the lifestyle. What a heavy price to pay!

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  16. Yep, this article pretty well says it all. I’ve been on the move for 20 years!
    For me, ‘wants’ were long ago been replaced by ‘needs’. So much more ‘freeing’. 😊😊

    Liked by 1 person

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