Re-Entry Shock

Matt | Culture Shock | Tuesday, August 4th, 2009

I must admit I’ve been very fortunate with my re-entry to Canada after living in Beijing for almost four years.  I can’t say that I have experienced much reverse culture shock.  Remembering some conversations I had with friends who have been in China for many years, I believe culture shock comes in waves: some days you’re fine, other days you’re miserable and you don’t know why. Today was one of those miserable days for me, when I was questioning why the heck had I returned to Canada. This wave will pass as I know, logically, I’m doing the right thing for now.

But the real reason of this post is to talk about a strange phenomenon that I believe is related to reverse culture shock (re-entry shock): that is my avoidance in getting in touch with old friends.

The reason I think this is part of reverse culture shock is that I remember it happening to a friend of mine in China.  He is Chinese and he had a friend return from studying overseas.  But when his friend, Lola, returned to Beijing she spent months alone with her folks.  It took months before Lola called up my friend to re-establish her old friendships. Even though I don’t know Lola I feel I can relate to how she felt.

When I first returned I didn’t feel like re-engaging my old friends.  A part of me felt like I should have done more with my four year overseas experience; traveled more; studied more; experienced more. Also that they had probably moved on with their lives while I was away so would I still fit in?  Would they still be interested in a relationship?

Fortunately, I had one good forcing strategy and that was I decided to share an apartment with an old friend of mine.  This forced me to re-engage with someone.  But other than that I haven’t done a great job.

So my task for August is to get back in touch and to truly savour my time here in Toronto.

Reading some of the tips from the links above I realize that my re-entry plan has had mixed results.  On the one hand I hadn’t planned on missing China so much.  I miss a lot about China: the excitement, language, culture, food and of course my girlfriend.  Also, I don’t have a lot of people here that I’ve been able to share my experiences with.  This lack of interest of your overseas experience is a common frustration of people re-entering a culture.  I find whenever someone asks me about China I light up and spew out as much information as they can take in and often times more than they can take in.  On the other hand, I think I did well to keep busy initially to keep boredom away.  I had signed up for adult education courses to keep busy, as well as a full-time job search, with interviews and eventually a successful outcome.

Funny too, that I was even able to find out some new things to try since returning that helped me bridge the cultural gap and that was signing up for beginners Tai Chi.  This has been a fantastic addition to my regular routine.  It’s nice to be able to get this taste of China weekly.

So remember, culture shock will hit you both coming and going.  So if possible try to plan for it to ease the discomfort.

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