This page is on culture shock and cultural fatigue.

What is culture shock?

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Reverse Culture Shock

Just as you may have experienced culture shock or culture fatigue during your time in Japan, you may experience it when you return home. Re-entry shock or reverse culture shock is common among returning expatriates, but it is often unanticipated, so there is less awareness and support for it than regular culture shock. The level of severity varies by individual, but in general, the more you have changed—often connected to how long you were away and how deeply you immersed yourself—the more difficult it will be to readjust to your home culture.

Signs and sources of reverse culture shock

  • Idealized view of home or of Japan
  • Expectation of total familiarity, that you will be able to pick up exactly where you left off
  • Feeling frustrated, alienated, bored, disconnected, unsatisfied with surroundings
  • Loss or compartmentalization of experience
  • People don’t want to listen, misunderstand you, or see “wrong” changes
  • You can’t explain
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Stages of reverse culture shock

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Before leaving
Your busy schedule of packing, goodbye parties, and finishing your Japan bucket list can intensify feelings. You may be reluctant to leave, or maybe you can’t wait to get out of here. Your last few days may fly by so fast you don’t have time to reflect. There may be changes in social dynamics: people may begin to distance themselves emotionally before parting ways, or suddenly form a close bond before leaving.

Stage 1: the Honeymoon Period
You finally get to enjoy everything you missed when you were in Japan. Your family and friends are excited to have you back, you can read all the street signs, and there’s real cheese! You notice the positives about your home country.

Stage 2: Crisis and Culture Shock
You become more aware of negative aspects, and may even feel like a foreigner in your own country. You feel uneasy, frustrated, alienated, bored, disconnected, unsatisfied, even depressed or angry. Things are different than you remember and your transition hasn’t been as smooth as you expected. People aren’t interested in hearing about your experiences, and you start to miss Japan and being abroad, perhaps even think about going back.

Stage 3: Adjustment and Assimilation
You learn to reconcile your experiences in Japan with your new life at home. Things start to seem a little more normal as you gradually re-learn the cultural norms of your home country. You fall into some old routines, but you see things differently now because of your new attitudes, habits, and personal and professional goals.
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How to get over reverse culture shock

  • Expect it to happen. Prepare for a readjustment period, and tackle culture shock at home with the methods you used when you came to Japan. Be ready for a change in relationships both in Japan and back home.
    • “Every culture has a “script,” full of expectations, values and norms, that people follow intuitively in their interactions in everyday life. You have been reading from a different “script” for a while now, which may result in some embarrassing social missteps, or just general feelings of uneasiness when you arrive back home. This can be very stressful, as “home” is a place where we expect to feel comfortable and competent, which may not be the case as you are choking back a “sumimasen!” when you feel like ordering something at a restaurant.” –Kumamoto Leaver’s Guide p.47
  • Reconnect with your home network. Reading up on current events, pop culture, and other news will help you have something to talk about besides Japan. Reconnect with friends and family so you have a strong support network to lean on as you readjust.
  • Return home with a “traveler’s heart.”* Think of returning home like traveling to a brand new country and seek something new no matter where you are. Treat the people in your home country with the same patience, respect, and curiosity as the people you met on your travels: “Take the time to acknowledge your colleagues’ ‘unique’ ways of doing things and realize that even though they’re not 4,000 miles away, they have stories to share, too.”*
  • Keep in touch with Japan. Connect with a JET Alumni Association (JETAA), join a local Japanese culture or international organization, and keep in touch with friends you made in Japan. Staying informed on Japanese current events and pop culture will help you feel connected to Japan.
  • Stay international. Maintain your “international” lifestyle, including food, fashion, and perspective. Just because you’re back home doesn’t mean you have to give up your interests just to fit in.
  • Stay active. Continue the hobbies or studies that you did in Japan. Keeping active will give you a sense of control over your situation and help you get over culture shock. Take care of your physical and mental health throughout the adjustment process.
  • Pay it forward. Find a way to use your new skills and knowledge, such as writing a blog or helping JET/WI-ALT hopefuls with their application. Use your experience as a foreigner to get to know international students or individuals from “minority” backgrounds, who may be feeling the same alienation you felt overseas.
  • Know that this too shall pass. With time, you will get used to your new surroundings, and you will be even more worldly and mentally tough for it. Your experience overcoming culture shock in Japan has given you the coping mechanisms to deal with the challenges of readjusting to life at home.

Sources: Study Abroad Student Handbook Worldwide, Repatriation 101, Home Sweet Home? Dealing with Reverse Culture Shock, Finding Your Home When You’re a Global Soul, How to Repatriate Successfully, Reverse Culture Shock: What, When, and How to Cope

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