Reverse culture shock

Re-entry Shock

Well folks this is it. Soon you’ll be packing your bags, saying your good byes and heading out to new and different landscapes, far away from Akita. The difficulties inherent in leaving Japan are quite obvious. Saying goodbye to your favorite people and places, closing down your apartment and utilities, and figuring out what to do with all that stuff you’ve accumulated! With all the things to do here before you leave, it’s no wonder JETs often arrive back in their home country, wide-eyed, jet lagged and very, very confused. “Where am I again? And where did all these ‘gaijin’ come from!” Re-entry shock is something many JETs face to a varying degree upon returning home. Just as moving to Japan required serious adapting, going back may require some adaptation as well. Food’s going to be different (this could be good or bad!), many of your friends will have changed, your country will have changed, you will have missed out on a year or more of development in your family, friends and home culture.


To some extent going home can feel like going to a foreign country all over again, except worse because you are not expecting it.

Just as you will have had to brace yourself for a period of psychological disorientation when you leave your home country, you should know that after your time abroad, you may also have to prepare yourself for a parallel period of readjustment when you return 'home.' Why? Simply because, if you have had a full experience living and learning overseas, you are likely to have changed while you have been away, so the place you return to may itself appear to have changed, as indeed it might have. Even though these changes are seldom huge, and may not be apparent to others, you are likely to be very aware of them, and this can be confusing, all the more so because it is unexpected. Immediately after your return, you can probably expect to go through an initial stage of euphoria and excitement. Most people are overwhelmed by the sheer joy of being back on their native turf. But as you try to settle back into your former routine, you may recognize that your overseas experience has changed some or many of your perceptions and assumptions, your ways of doing things, even what it means to 'be yourself.' You might have become, in a sense, a somewhat new person. After all, that is what education is all about! But this intellectual and personal growth means that you can expect a period of disorientation as you adjust to the "new" environment at home. The re-adjustment period is usually rather short-lived, since 'home' will never be as "foreign" to you as the foreign environment you adjusted to overseas. Also, your experience of dealing successfully with culture shock abroad will have provided you with the psychological tools for dealing with the challenges of readjustment. Obviously, the more you have changed—often a by- product of the time you were away and how deeply you immersed yourself--the more difficult it will be to have things go back to a previous notion of normality. However, if you are aware of the changes (and seek to learn from them, smooth adaptation is more likely.


Preparation is always the best policy.

It’s a good idea to do a bit of research on this before your encounter it. There’s a lot of good reading on the Internet. Some suggest the more successful you were in adapting to your “new” culture, the harder a time you’ll have re-adapting to your “old” culture. Also, when you are in an alien country, people are aware that you are from a different place and may tend to be more understanding of your actions. When you return home though, you will probably have changed and people won’t necessarily be expecting that or be accepting of it. It’s also recommended that you do a bit of reading up on your hometown. Check out your local newspapers on line. Look at the local news and see what has changed while you’ve been away. If you are going some place new, read up on that as well. The Internet, for all its sins, is full of information, so you should be able to find out almost everything that’s been happening lately, wherever you’re headed. This helps a lot, especially to fill those empty spaces in conversation with friends you can’t seem to relate to anymore! Also, consider keeping your friends and family informed of what’s going on in your life in the months before you leave. Some JETs write email journals and send them to their friends. That way, even though your friends and family cannot be here in person, they can be here in spirit and have some idea of how you’ve changed and what you’ve been through before you get back. That way, when you discuss your experiences with them, they have some frame of reference. Psychologists recommend saying goodbye to your favorite places Akita has been home to us for some time. We’ve found cool places that have made it special. We know the good places to eat. There’s that favorite bar you like to hang out in. We have our rituals that have helped us to be comfortable while living here in Akita. Those places where you always hung out were important to you for a reason and, just like with people, it can be important to get closure. Psychologists also recommend writing things down. It sounds trite I know but sometimes the process of writing helps you feel better. Write down things you miss about home, even down to the foods and keep this list in a safe place for later reference. Then make another list of things you list about Japan and things you think you might miss. If you start to feel homesick for Japan when you get home, get out your home country list and remember all the things you missed about it while you were away. In a questionnaire given by CLAIR every year to JET Alumni, many state they no longer feel they have a lot in common with people back home. This is a symptom of reverse culture shock.


Everybody will inevitably ask, "So how was Japan?" Can you encompassing your entire JET experience in a 10-second reply?

Many JETs say even close friends and family aren't so interested in what happened "over there", and family members who went through tough times back home during the JET's absence can sometimes harbor unconscious resentment towards the JET for leaving. When asked about Japan, the JET gets half a minute into talking about it before the listener's eyes glaze over. Many listeners can't relate, even if they're really close. Most people want to hear, "It was great!" and then be done with it, while you want to share what you have been through and how you have grown. It seems people who’ve lived abroad make the best listeners for ex-JETs. It would be a good idea in many ways to join the JETAA or a similar intercultural exchange-related organization in your local area (volunteer for a student exchange program for instance) in order to find people who can relate to what you have been through. Or keep in touch with friends you made here. In those first few months home, you may really need an understanding ear to scream into. Remembering what it was like for you to have been a 'foreigner' should inspire you to try to get to know the international students on your campus or others from 'minority' backgrounds, who may themselves be feeling some of the same social dislocation and alienation you once felt when you were overseas. The key is to build on the cross-cultural coping skills you now possess and to find conscious ways of integrating your new 'self' into your evolving personal and academic life, not seeing it as a 'dream' or something irrelevant to your future. Another point alumni warn about is your old friends might now seem to be very boring! The fact that they may seem to have not changed at all can be frustrating when you have changed so much. You may end up feeling like you have grown past them. These feelings are completely natural though and are symptomatic of re-entry shock. It's possible you might find yourself hanging out with different people and aspiring to do different things, and in doing so you may grow apart from some of the people who were your friends before you came to Japan. Then again, this may not happen at all – many people find they fit right back in with no problems.


Be patient about it and take things slowly.

Remember that it will take time to adapt and reintegrate. There are many manifestations of reverse culture shock. Some JETs might experience all of them, while others may have no problems at all. Almost all JET alumni say it really helps to plan for the near future so you have meaningful goals to work towards when you get back. If you have something to aim for then it will help you to fit into your new life and quickly adapt. For more information on how past JETs dealt with returning home please check out the “Advice for Leaving JET and Returning Home” section.


Tips for dealing with the re-entry process

  • Allow yourself time to re-adjust, re-learn, and re-adapt to your life here
  • Seek support networks by meeting with students with similar interests and befriending international students
  • Recognize personal growth and identify positive changes by journal writing, submitting articles and photos to contests, speaking to community groups, and volunteering with international groups
  • Incorporate your experience into your academic work by tailoring writing, research, and presentation topics toward your experience
  • Keep up your language skills by continuing course work, meeting international students, and keeping in touch with friends abroad
  • Read internationally minded publications like the Economist or foreign newspapers
  • Volunteer with internationally-minded organizations
  • Volunteer to tutor refugees and immigrants English language skills
  • Continue a habit picked up while abroad, such as afternoon tea, walks through the park, or chatting with friends at a coffee house
  • Many JETs find that they leave Akita knowing this place better than their actual homes. Take time to explore the place you go to next. The adventure doesn’t stop, just the location (for most of us).
Leaving JET Checklist
Finances Pension Refund • Pension book • Selling your stuff • Return tickets • Shipping items home
Career Returners Checklist • Preparing your resume • Preparing your Japanese resume • Working in Japan
After Leaving Reverse culture shock