Reverse Culture Shock

January 30, 2020


Six months into my third year teaching overseas I departed Bangkok, Thailand for Kansas City, Missouri. A family emergency dictated a short leave of absence.

Touching down in Kansas City, a feeling of alienation soon began to take root. A city that had once felt familiar and comforting now loomed foreign, steeped in rules and regulations that served to regiment and depersonalize life. How could a city that once seemed so satisfying now feel so predictable and mundane? Did people here always go about locked into their own little orbits, hardly recognizing each other’s existence?    Reverse culture shock had struck hard! I no longer fit in… 

Adapting to Bangkok hadn’t happened overnight. The people, customs, sights, smells, weather, language — just about everything — had taken me months of adjustment. But once culture shock subsided, I fell in love with Thailand and its people. Would the same again be true of Kansas City? Or had we broken up forever?

Fortunately the emergency that had brought me “home” resolved in the most perfect way anyone could have hoped for. A few days later, while exiting the terminal back in Bangkok, I flagged down a three-wheeled, open-air tuk-tuk and headed for “home” on Soi 16. Signaling my sandal-clad driver to pull over at a pushcart parked on the side of the road, I picked up an order of Pad Thai en route. The smiling vendor lovingly scooped a generous portion of savory, hot noodles into a clear plastic bag, sealed it with a rubber band and, with pride, handed me tonight’s dinner. I knew I was truly “home.”

I’m curious to know about other educators’ experience with reverse culture shock and how they handled it. Can you ever fully readjust to your “home” culture after immersing yourself for extended periods in exotic cultures in distant lands?

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