How to Reintegrate After Living Abroad

How to Reintegrate After Living Abroad

May 28, 2024 7 min read

Blonde woman with suitcase in the street.

While many people are excited to return home after spending a long time living abroad, the reintegration process is not always smooth. Of course, it’s normal to experience a bittersweet feeling as you pack your things and touch down in your home country, but for some people, this can lead to an extended period of distress.

This state is known as “reverse culture shock” — an issue among those who have lived and worked overseas for months or years. Just as people struggle to acclimate to their surroundings in a new country, many who experience reverse culture shock can find it difficult to fit back into their homeland.

As digital technology has allowed students, workers, and travelers to spend long periods overseas, there’s a sense that reverse culture shock is more prevalent than ever. Meanwhile, some studies on the effects of reverse culture shock suggest the severity of symptoms relates to how long someone spends overseas, with extended stays leading to prolonged negative emotions.

Causes of Reverse Culture Shock 

It might seem strange to feel distressed after you’ve moved back closer to your friends and family, but the idea of reverse culture shock shouldn’t come as a surprise. The longer you spend overseas, the more accustomed you become to your surroundings. While a foreign place might feel unusual at first, over time, it can seem more and more like home, especially if you don’t remain tightly connected to your roots.

So, how does reverse culture shock happen? Trouble typically begins with a clash between cultural norms you’ve learned overseas and the way of life at home. Although people expect to slide back into their old identity, the time they’ve spent away can be more transformative than predicted, leading to a sense of loss and confusion. Perhaps you miss how people greet each other, feel uncomfortable returning to your old lifestyle, or find it hard to reconcile differences in wealth. 

No matter what, transitioning from one set of values, experiences, and habits to something entirely different causes reverse culture shock for many returning home after living abroad. For some, it’s a fleeting feeling. For others, it can contribute to lasting negative attitudes about their home country and themselves — feelings that take a heavy emotional and psychological toll.

For example, reverse culture shock can lead those returning home to experience confusion about their identity, resulting in complex feelings of isolation and loneliness. While these emotions might be upsetting, it’s possible to reconnect with your home culture and its customs without forgetting what came before.

The Telltale Signs of Reverse Culture Shock

Reintegrating after living abroad is easier when you recognize the signs of reverse culture shock. Instead of feeling sad and confused, you can take steps to process your new surroundings and feel at home again.

Reverse culture shock can come with any of the following:

  • Feelings of isolation: Reverse culture shock can make people feel detached and lonely after coming back home after living abroad. This might occur because you miss the values, lifestyle, or weather you enjoyed when living in another country. 
  • Withdrawal from people and activities: It’s common for people to avoid social events with friends and family. You might not want to talk about your experiences abroad or reflect on how much you miss it.
  • Confusion and frustration: Reverse culture shock can also make people feel frustrated and uncertain about their lives. This can lead to a reclusive attitude or even cause you to become more irritable with friends and family as you struggle to reintegrate.
  • Intense sense of loss: Once you become so familiar with a place that it feels like home, you can experience an overwhelming sense of loss after leaving it behind. From processing the relationships you’ve left behind to the places you can no longer visit, dealing with this sadness takes self-care and patience. 
  • Apathy and restlessness: People experience reverse culture shock in various ways. While some might feel intense apathy, causing them to feel bored with daily life, others develop a restless mood, where it’s difficult to feel relaxed or satisfied with their environment.

How to Reintegrate Comfortably

If you’ve spent months or years living and working overseas, reverse culture shock could be something you experience when you arrive home. However, the following tips are helpful strategies to ease the transition back into your past life.

Keep in Touch With Friends

Just because you’ve moved home doesn’t mean you have to forget about your overseas connections. As you might have formed some of the tightest bonds of your life with people you met in a foreign country, it makes sense to maintain a relationship from a distance. Thanks to social media and video calls, staying in touch is usually simple.

For example, you might have cherished your time with a host family. You can regularly check in to see how they’re doing and make plans to visit again in the future. Meanwhile, if there’s someone you’d like to send money to, Ria Money Transfer makes it hassle-free to transfer funds to 3.6 billion accounts in over 180 countries and territories.

Don’t Forget Your Experiences

While recognizing your reality and moving into the next phase of your life is important, there’s no reason you can’t continue to treasure your memories. You could write a blog or a memoir about your experience, helping you reflect on your time spent overseas and the incredible people you met. In the years ahead, it’ll serve as a wonderful reminder and memento.

Creating a scrapbook featuring photos, trinkets, stickers, and souvenirs collected during your stay is another evocative way to remember your experience abroad. Alternatively, you can print images and display them at home. This approach can help you process your life overseas while acknowledging you need to look ahead to the future.

Give Yourself Time

Feeling apprehensive makes sense when you have to head home after a long stint overseas. Yet, most people don’t consider the possibility of reverse culture shock. When harsh negative emotions strike after your arrival, you have to stay patient, as most people naturally overcome these feelings relatively quickly. 

While your friends and family might be excited to catch up, remember to reserve space for yourself as you process your surroundings. Rather than rushing into every social event hoping to kickstart a change, it might be more appropriate to slow down. This way, you can calibrate your expectations and achieve a steady balance.

Discover New Adventures

Your overseas adventure might have ended, but you don’t have to sit around wistfully yearning for a return. Once you feel ready to move ahead, you can find exciting ways to engage at home. Whether you explore with new friends or old, researching social groups with shared interests is a smart way to feel involved.

If you were an enthusiastic hiker abroad, find a local group that regularly journeys into parts of the wilderness you’ve never explored before. If you loved contributing to the community you called home overseas, search for similar volunteer opportunities in your neighborhood. With an open mind, you can rediscover your passions at home.

Explore New Relationships

Part of the appeal of living abroad is the chance to meet new people with a completely different lived experience. Although reverse culture shock can leave you feeling culturally isolated, countless people at home offer opportunities to expand your worldview. Deliberately seeking new connections can help fill the void.

While getting out of your comfort zone is tiring, you might encounter a similar sense of discovery to what you experienced overseas. With the right connections, you’ll have like-minded people to share your favorite travel experiences with. Not only does this recall incredible memories, but it might help you realize that valuable experiences await everywhere.

Seek Professional Help When Needed

If you notice reverse culture shock symptoms after returning home, you don’t have to manage these feelings alone. Some therapists specialize in this specific issue, helping expats, students, and long-term travelers process what’s happening and why.

While your family and friends might not fully grasp the impact of reverse culture shock, a professional can help you navigate this difficult time. By talking through your experiences and learning helpful strategies, you can emerge with a better understanding of your identity.

Reintegrate Successfully After Living Abroad

Moving back home after years overseas is undoubtedly daunting. But you can ease back into your home country and still appreciate your time abroad by understanding the effects of reverse culture shock. Then, it’s time to make new friends, chat with a professional, and even use Ria to support old companions. These ideas and many more will help you confidently reintegrate at home.

About the author

Gabriela Solis

Gabriela Solis is Ria's Senior Content Writer. Located in Querétaro, México, she focuses on telling stories that show the myriad human faces of remittances.

Related posts

Empowering Hope: How Haiti’s Remittances Can Transform Lives

Empowering Hope: How Haiti’s Remittances Can Transform Lives

Remittances play a vital role for poverty-struck communities, especially when it comes to countries like Haiti. The Caribbean nation depends on remittances sent from abroad, particularly from the United States where the Haitian diaspora is considered the 15th largest foreign-born population. Today, three-fifths of Haitians live on less than $2 a day. Following a long […]

June 19, 2024

A Case for Affordable Remittances 2024: Supporting Families and Communities from afar

A Case for Affordable Remittances 2024: Supporting Families and Communities from afar

Every year, millions of people decide to leave their native countries, crossing international borders in search of a better everyday life. Sometimes, people immigrate to earn a college degree or to learn a language. Other times, to gain international experience in their field. But, more often than not, people move to lift themselves and their […]

June 13, 2024

How to Reintegrate After Living Abroad

How to Reintegrate After Living Abroad

While many people are excited to return home after spending a long time living abroad, the reintegration process is not always smooth. Of course, it’s normal to experience a bittersweet feeling as you pack your things and touch down in your home country, but for some people, this can lead to an extended period of […]

May 28, 2024

Best Places to Live in Puerto Rico: Five Top Expat Havens 

Best Places to Live in Puerto Rico: Five Top Expat Havens 

With its vibrant culture, stunning beaches, rich history, and convenient ties to the United States, Puerto Rico has become an increasingly popular destination for expatriates seeking a blend of Caribbean lifestyle and American comforts.  As a U.S. territory, Puerto Rico provides expatriates with the benefits of American infrastructure, healthcare standards, and legal status. It offers […]

May 14, 2024