I originally wrote this post on Go See Write when I first arrived back to Seattle after 9 months away in Southeast Asia. It still speaks to my feelings about reverse culture shock today.
One week ago I was living in my sarong and floating in still cerulean water. I was swimming in waterfalls and driving a motorbike through rice fields and pepper farms.
I was tasting bizarre tropical fruits and eating street food for $1.
I was befriending other writers, artists, wanderers, healers, tuk tuk drivers, and even an American Vietnam War Vet reincarnated as a three-year-old Cambodian boy.
I was in a world of color and intensity.
I was in Southeast Asia.
Bundled in a sweater and socks on the sofa on a gray day in Seattle, I can’t seem to grasp why I decided to come home.
Living nomadically for the last two and a half years, this is my sixth time back to the city where I spent over half of my life.
This is my sixth time couch surfing with friends and family. My sixth time adjusting to cold weather and English speaking store clerks and clean, paved, empty streets.
My sixth time not relating to the conversations the lifestyles the mentalities of my peers. My sixth time being the Debbie Downer who constantly compares the aquarium to the barrier reef in Belize. The Pacific Northwest pebbles to the South Pacific white sand. The wind and rain to breezy Caribbean mornings and tropical Thai monsoons.
This is my sixth time experiencing reverse culture shock.
You might think that it would get easier. In theory I should feel more prepared and develop more realistic expectations over time.
Exactly the opposite transpires.
The more times I leave, the greater the shock I experience from the differences between my “home” and what I now consider “the real world.” No amount of preparation or lack of expectations seems to soften this thud.
Each time I feel less connected to my culture. I feel out of place. I become more certain that I don’t want to live in this world.
Each time I return I speak to people who sound unhappy and stuck in their professions, in their relationships, in their lives. On the road every day feels like a lifetime, yet in this world nothing ever seems to change.
Each time no one seems particularly interested in where I have been or what I experienced. They nod along through my stories, offering “sounds like you had a great time.” They remain understandably too preoccupied with their “real” lives to hear about my “fantasy” one.
Each time I become more protective of my personal growth, afraid to let in the messages and patterns I worked so hard to deprogram. I shut down when I witness my friends, my parents, my culture, behave in ways that explain why I used to be a laundry list of things I never wanted to be.
More than anything this is the hardest part of coming home.
Not the cold weather or the sticker shock or sleeping on a sofa or having seemingly meaningless conversations.
The hardest part of coming home is seeing a side of myself in others that I never wanted to look at.
On the road I can be anyone I want to be. I can reinvent myself every moment if I wish. Each jungle path or expansive rice field or cluttered market remains untouched by memories of my past.
On the road I am easy going, I am fearless, I am strong, I am healthy, I am happy.
But in these familiar neighborhoods with familiar faces I’m reminded of who I was before I left to travel. A woman I now view as inflexible and overly attached who never exercised and cried herself to sleep most nights.
That scares me more than hiking in the jungle with wild pumas or riding in rickety sailboats in open water or driving a scooter down winding gravel roads.
I’m scared that by simply being in her former surroundings and engaging in her former relationships I will easily slip into her old familiar ways. Being in Seattle reminds me that as much as I don’t want to be her, she will always be part of me.
This reminder makes me wants to pack up and leave the moment I return home.
So I find myself today in Seattle with a choice. I can catch the next flight to anywhere or I can allow the lessons I am meant to learn in this moment seep in. Perhaps here I will not learn a foreign language or exotic cooking skills or how to breathe underwater, but I can certainly learn something about compassion towards my “non-nomadic” former self.
After all, she is the one who paved the way for me to be the person who I am today.
She is the one who booked that flight, packed up everything she owned, handed over her keys, and headed off into the unknown.
The sooner I learn to love and accept her, the sooner I can learn to love and accept the fact that at least in some ways, this place will always be my home.
What is the hardest part about coming home for YOU?
Check out my blog post: How to Transition Into Your Real Life After Travel
“Each time I return I speak to people who sound unhappy and stuck in their professions, in their relationships, in their lives. On the road every day feels like a lifetime, yet in this world nothing ever seems to change.
Each time no one seems particularly interested in where I have been or what I experienced. They nod along through my stories, offering “sounds like you had a great time.” They remain understandably too preoccupied with their “real” lives to hear about my “fantasy” one.”
Never in my life have i read so much truth in two small paragraphs. After returning to my ‘home’town after living in Thailand for 13 months i completely relate to these feelings. I’m currently back until January ’16 whilst i save the funds to leave and i’ve been feeling exactly the way as described by your words. You’d think that it would be easy for me after being back now for 8 months but it still feels so raw, so heightened.
I don’t know about the hardest part in being home, but i know that the easiest part is reading posts like yours and knowing that i’m not alone xo
Aw Amy thank you so much and I totally know what you’re going through. One of the most healing things about human connection is seeing that we all go through the same things and at our core we are all one <3
A very thought provoking account as always.
I suspect I am actually one of those people described above in terms of being trapped in my lifestyle. I can’t disagree with your summary of the routine I find myself in. Nor though would I want it any differently with the family I have worked hard to build.
The trick is to be happy and make the best of what one wants to aspire to, and if more people did just that, then a happier world this would be.
Looking forward to seeing what pathway you take next!
Absolutely. It’s all about gratitude and acceptance 🙂
I have spent most of my adult life travelling and working- and have come home to reality about 2 years ago… and havent been able to fit in- I have been through 5 different jobs, and can’t seem to feel content…
It is so hard to not just throw it all in, and hit the road again, but worry will it be even harder to return next time, when i am older, and have less to my name.
I am curious- do you have the same fears- and how do you support yourself- financially and emotionally while you are away?
Thank you for your honest, open question. Yes I absolutely have and have had these fears. Though the more I follow my heart, the more I see that these fears are all an illusion. My survival has never been at risk because of not having enough money or missing home. I support myself financially by doing whatever it takes to keep this dream alive, usually freelance writing, web design, working with sponsors for my blog, and I’ve just released my first ebook. There are so many ways. Emotionally I spend time in nature, have genuine heartfelt conversations with people I meet, meditate, practice yoga, and I DANCE! If you truly want something, it’s entirely possible.
“Or I can allow the lessons I am meant to learn in this moment seep in”. This is exactly what I needed to read today! Thank you Camille. Wishing you all the best on your new ice adventure :)Liesbeth
Thank you so much 🙂 I wish you the best on your journey! <3
Very well spoken and the exact way I believe many of us travelers feel. We’re ever so torn between home and adventure. When out on an adventure, we miss home, when home we miss adventure and curse ourselves for returning. It’s a sick cycle isn’t it!? I’ve noticed a trend in travel bloggers: Everyone grows tired of traveling. Everyone needs a break. Everyone years for a bit of home, even if home doesn’t exactly feel like home any more.
I have been home now for two months, and I often feel so bipolar here! Although my body aches for an adventure and while I believe so strongly in following ones heart and yearnings, I don’t want to be on this merry go round any longer. I am now researching opportunities to gain a new skill in life, one that I will enjoy, that pays, and that will still provide opportunities for diversity. And most likely, will ground me more. I may have to say goodbye to my life of ‘flying by the seat of my pants’ but I believe I’m ready for it. It’s been fun.
Also, the thought of leaving my 14 year old dog pains me – enough to decide to stay near her rather than take off again. Relationships (even with animals) are now taking precedence over another great adventure – that like you said, no one cares to hear about anyways. Most of my closest friends don’t even read my travel blog. They simply have no interest in travel, and I can’t force it upon them. I get my 5 minutes of fame when I return, then it’s back to the real world and trying to fit in.
Sometimes the road can feel so empty, sometimes wonderful. What I’ve learned to accept is that “we never get it done and we never get it right”. Life is simply an adventure full of ups and downs, dark days and bright, clearness and confusion, and we must appreciate them all as part of our journey. Something made you return home, don’t ignore that something, don’t curse that something. Give that something a closer look.
I recently read a J.K. Rowling quote that goes along the lines of how she built her strongest foundation once she hit rock bottom. I loved it.
I wrote way more than I meant to when I started out! Just know you’re not alone. All us travelers understand what you’re going through. We all get it, and we’re all in it together!
Aw thank you for your deep and heartfelt comment. You’re right, none of us is alone, and we are all in on this together. I wish you strength, clarity, and most importantly, surrender, on your journey <3
Totally get this. I quit a six figure income job and moved all alone to Paris where I didn’t know a soul or speak a word of french in 2004. 10 years later I’ve just moved back to Seattle (I moved from San Juan island in 2004). Still trying to find “me” here and patiently watching and waiting for the universe to show me the next path. I wouldn’t change who I am or how I’ve chosen to live my life for anything. Feeling like an outsider to most friends and family here just seems to be part of who I’ve become. Thanks for a great post.
You’re so welcome. I wish you a peaceful transition into this new phase in your journey. Have you seen this post? It might be helpful too:
Beautiful! Thank you for sharing your experience and your thoughts! I haven’t left the country for an extended period of time; luckily I was able to travel from a young age visiting places that eventually gave me the courage to move across the country on my own. The one thing I’ve taken is there are adventurous spirits everywhere you go, and now that you’re home be an explorer in your hometown, see home like its a different country. People are amazing everywhere you go engulf yourself in the festivals alone, the farmers market 5 towns over, try new things you haven’t done with people you don’t no yet. Home isn’t one place; Home is this world,your journey, what you see everyday. Keep traveling and always remember the people that move forward in life are easy to find when you’re always out there exploring!
Aw thank you so much for these wonderful words of affirmation <3 <3 <3
There are so many of us on the same boat. First time I’m experiencing reverse culture shock without even leaving for my home country. I spent last year wandering in Central America, mostly on the beaches. It costs me the same stress to move to the city and office life. Although I’m still in beautiful Costa Rica…
I hear ya. It’s so much easier to feel peace in nature and on beaches. That’s why I know my heart home is Puerto Viejo.
I thought know one understood.. you do!! Thank you so much..
Aw you’re so welcome <3 <3 <3
This reminds me of an article I recently read about the flipside of being an expat. The author summarized her experience as follow (paraphrased from her original Finnish text):
People expect you to be the one to visit, since you’re the one who left. It doesn’t seem to occur to anybody that they could just as well jump onto the next plane and be the ones who come to visit. Eventually, you find that the only person who will come every now and then is that very best friend you left behind. Meanwhile, your relatives regularly take vacations in distant countries, but cannot be bothered with spending them in your country, let alone with you.
After a while, you get tired of people not making themselves available whenever you “visit home” and make genuine efforts to meet everyone, and stop bothering with informing anyone whenever you will be dropping by. You eventually realize that most people you used to hang out with back in the days are not really much more than acquaintances you just happened to have shared a slice of life with, and therefore very few of them are worthy of the precious time you have for your extremely rare visits home.
Over time, you realize that your life has irremediably changed, while everyone else’s back home has not. They cannot relate to any of your expat experiences and you no longer can relate to their homeland world.
One day, you wake up and realize, in a pleasantly serene way, that there’s simply no going back. 🙂
Nice, thank you so much for translating and for sharing 🙂
I totally agree. Coming home to my tiny town was such a reverse culture shock. In my town, people are closed minded, attached to their comfort zones and isolated from the adventures of the world. But most of all: nothing ever happens there. I had spent months backpacking and exploring new things and people and food. Now that I’m home and I’m a new person, the old comfortable way of life I lead is now not satisfying. I crave adventure constantly.
I hear you and I’ve been there many times. Have you seen this post of mine? https://www.thisamericangirl.com/2013/02/15/how-to-transition-into-your-real-life-after-travel/
Hello there! I stumbled over your blog just today and that is probably the 20th post that I read in the past hour or so… I decided to comment because this one spoke to me very very personally 😀 Although I am not a frequent traveler as you, four years ago I packed my life in three very heavy suitcases at the age of just 18 and came to the Netherlands to study. I am from the small Balkan country of Bulgaria and it was a huge shock for me to adapt from a very blissful relatively irresponsible high school life in very hearty country to more mature living on my own in the closed Dutch society. Sure it isn’t nomadic backpacking but it took some getting used to. I am very happy with my life now, I love what I study although it is stressful sometimes, I have a loving man next me and very supportive group of friends. I spend my extra time doing yoga and dancing. We travel frequently around the country and in neighboring states and I get to do random things just for the fun of it. I can say that I have experienced way more things than some of my peers back home just because of the fact that I had to establish a totally new life for myself in a totally new country. I have a few very close lifelong friends in Bulgaria and when I am back we always have a blast but every time I feel out of place. I think it is not because of the people because my friends are young and adventurous and have their stories to tell but the place itself. I like to keep tabs on all that is happening around me and being back there, just reminds me of how far I have gotten. I do not feel connected with the “street vibe” anymore, I constantly get flashbacks of the past and the mixture of nostalgia and the realization that half my friends are scattered around the world and it will never be what it was just stings. I feel a bit “guilty” of moving forward, especially when I add my parents who are pretty much stuck there to the picture. I guess I still have to learn how to properly let go 🙂 Anyway in about ten days I am packing up for the UK to see one of my besties graduate and then off to Romania for six months. I am going off alone and will have to manage a long distance relationship but I am very curious about the new country. I guess going back home will become even more weird after that. Cheers for your awesome blog 🙂
Aw thanks dear, and thank you for sharing your story! Many of us know and understand how you feel. I’m excited to hear how it all goes for you on this next journey <3
“Each time I return I speak to people who sound unhappy and stuck in their professions, in their relationships, in their lives. On the road every day feels like a lifetime, yet in this world nothing ever seems to change.Each time no one seems particularly interested in where I have been or what I experienced. They nod along through my stories, offering “sounds like you had a great time.” They remain understandably too preoccupied with their “real” lives to hear about my “fantasy” one.”
Yes! I felt this every day working the daily grind in New York (funnily enough in travel PR) and it makes me incredibly happy that there are others out there who recognize the disconnect. I have made the decision to change my life two times over since those pillow crying nights and my soul is definitely more satisfied. Good for you that you’re able to make peace with your former self. I look forward to reading more of your posts! 🙂
Thank you Karen. I am so happy to hear that you have changed course and listened to your heart <3 !!
Hi Camille. This is a great post. We just started our one-year trip around the world and I am not sure how we will feel coming back. When we were living our US life behind 3 months ago, I was afraid that I will get bored of traveling (ha!) or miss my house and work (even bigger ha!). Now I can’t imagine coming back to the same house and same place for the rest of my life. I’m hoping though to find an amazing place or two somewhere in the world that will speak to my heart where I can enjoy life fully.
Have you found a place in the world that you could imagine living for the rest of your life? Or is now difficult to pinpoint that spot?
Thank you so much Mag. I HAVE definitely found “home” 🙂 It’s actually the first place I traveled to on my journey: Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica. I’m setting up a home base for myself there, and plan to travel half the year and life there half the year. Have you seen my ebook on Costa Rica already? https://www.thisamericangirl.com/ultimate-guide-costa-rica/
I get what you are saying. I’m American, but I lived in the Middle East for two years, and then in Europe for three. I can’t imagine my life without regular travel. I always had a hard time coming home and dealing with the reverse culture shock, so I can related to that.
However… I don’t quite agree with the concept of how “meaningless” things are back home, compared to the wonders of travel. Seattle is not the enemy. Every place is just a place. If travel has taught me anything, it’s that it’s really all about how you look at it. I just relocated temporarily to the Seattle area. People travel here to see and experience this city, just like you travelled to Asia to see and experience those places and those cultures. If I had read this before coming here, I would have thought everyone in Seattle lives a life of miserable jobs and relationships, never exercises, and wishes they could be hanging out in a hammock on a Caribbean island 24/7! But I’ve found this to be a great place, full of outdoor activities, innovation, and interesting people. And yes, even some meaningful conversations!
I love your blog and for the most part agree with what you are saying! But I just think it’s important to keep in mind that everyone has different goals and wants and desires. I’m like you – I like travel. But plenty of my friends and family are thrilled to stay in one place with a 9-5 and a nice house, and I’m thrilled for them.
No matter where you live, it’s what you make of it. 🙂
Thanks for sharing your opinion Rebecca 🙂 I totally agree! In fact I’ve gotten to a place over the last year where I really enjoy coming home. The point of the post was to show how it actually feels inside when some of us come home. Of course there are PLENTY of people living their bliss in all sorts of places all over the world, but it can be hard to see that when you’re not where you want to be. Ultimately the final phrase is meant to show that it’s not about the place, it’s about how I perceive MYSELF in the place. I’ve done a lot of healing work with that and now feel like I am still my “travel self” even when I’m home. So nice to hear that you enjoy my blog and are so accepting of different ways of living in this world <3
This is exactly how I have been feeling. It’s a lonely feeling that is not understood unless you have moved abroad and returned home. The part that resonated with me most was being afraid of being home because you don’t want to deprogram all of the work you have done in growing as a person. I feel afraid that the conventional views of my friends and family will spiral a fear response within me that will keep me in the same unhappy cycle I tried so hard to get out of. Thank you for writing this post.
You’re so welcome Rachel. Do you have a plan and supportive people to help you stay on the path you want to be on? xo
I’ve been living in Costa Rica for 2 yrs and I went back to Philadelphia for 2 wks after living abroad my first year. Wow ..it was definitely weird but everything in Philly was exactly the same with people talking about the same things meanwhile I’m thinking, “I worked at a animal sanctuary and we had a spider monkey loose and we had to be careful walking around the property and your talking about the store that closed down the street?”
By that 2nd week I was ready to return to Costa Rica and I did of course! I went back again for a week to Philly and I had the same feeling, “I’m over it” and there are too many things out there to see and coming home is just weird now!
Living and loving Costa Rica and I hope to explore Panama next!
I can totally relate Vernita!
After a bit more than 1 year of living in Indonesia, maybe I will come back home for Christmas. But honestly – I want to see my family, friends, eat food that I was used to, city how my hometown changed. But somehow – stay there I’m not ready yet..maybe one day..later:)
I hear you Ria <3
poetry in motion
I haven’t made it nearly as far as you…yet. But even visiting home after living in the Florida Keys I get some of those same feelings you describe.
I am a very mature age, free spirit, who travels ALOT……I have a husband who doesn’t find the same joy in discovering other cultures, so I come and I go!! Thank you so much for this blog,it just defines how I feel perfectly….I have only recently found your site,and its wonderful to be able to relate so deeply to your stories.
Thank you so much sweetie, it means a lot to know that my writing resonates with you <3
Oh my gosh, it’s like you took the words right out of my mouth. I have been working on a similar post and could not agree more with you!!! This is actually how my new venture, Adjust Your Focus™ started this year. Returning from a big international trip, feeling totally out of place back at home… I was craving more with others around me saying my new dreams weren’t reality. I felt so many changes within and experienced so much but back home talking with people it seemed like nothing changed. Great post!
Thank you love! So awesome that you’ve taken the reigns and created something for yourself. Many blessings your way! xoxo
This post really resonated with me. When I came back from almost 3 years in Germany and Iraq, and when I come back from any trip for that matter, family and friends don’t want to hear about it. In fact, they actually seem downright hostile and jealous every time I try to talk about it. I wish you many more lovely adventures, and many people to share them with.
Thank you sweetie, you too <3 It does get easier! I promise xoxo
Hi Camille. I know the feeling and I don’t even travel (it is in my plans though, it’s why I appreciate your blog so much). I know the feeling because, although I’m not “going back home”… I am around people who don’t seem to change while I’m undergoing a very rapid spiritual transformation. I stopped lying to myself and stopped living with one eye closed. Maybe you’ve come to the same conclusion lately as your posts is from years ago, but ultimately it’s not about where you are but how grounded you are within yourself. I have felt the exact same thing, fearing that the past will catch up to me and engulf me once again, fearing that I’ll go back to my old habits. But it’s just that, fear. There’s no going back.
I’ve also come to find out as part of my spiritual awakening, that shame is at the root of many problems. I thank my old self… she is still ‘me’ of course. She was doing her best at the time with the given knowledge she had. Practically everything we do in our lives is meant to protect us or make us feel better somehow, and that’s what we tried to do then with the tools we had. Trust that you did your best and thank your old self for everything she did because she thought it would bring you happiness. When happiness was inside you all along. It’s all you.
I can’t tell you how many times I googled “outgrowing your friends and family” and then realized they are on an entirely different paths and that it’s totally okay. I’m still me with a better and more improved mindset and no one can take that away.
Mmmmm yes yes yes you are so wise and indeed I have been going through the same journey especially in the last year. Unshadowing my shame, learning forgiveness, and trusting forward. Here is a bit of an update post to this one: https://www.thisamericangirl.com/2016/07/06/the-truth-about-going-home/
Also, do you know about the new online community I just released?? Sign up is open until Sunday I’d love for you to join us <3
Don’t forget to look after yourself when working at home, in an office, or even abroad. Use a Himalayan salt lamp to create areas of peace and tranquility in the office which will allow you to retreat and rejuvenate. Increase your productivity naturally.