Returning home after spending a few years living abroad, or even a few weeks traveling, offers much to celebrate. You have a sense of humor now that you're able to crack jokes in your native tongue (being sarcastic in a foreign language is difficult). You can binge eat foods like peanut butter and deli meat, and sing along to songs on the radio. Sometimes, though, you may find yourself as frustrated upon returning home as you were when you first immersed yourself in another culture. Welcome to the disorientation that is reverse culture shock. Here's what it is and how to overcome it.
The problem? You've missed out
Coming back home after time away can leave you with a lot of catching up to do. If you've been gone awhile, chances are your friends and family had events in their lives you missed. You may feel like you've grown apart, or that you're no longer interested in the same things. You may also feel like they're sharing many of their personal stories with you, but seem disinterested in learning about what you experienced while you were away.
The fix: Schedule some one-on-one time
Take the time to reconnect with loved ones with one-on-one time, rather than just relying on Facebook to find out what you missed. If you're feeling like the conversation is one-sided and you'd like to share more of your experience, consider hosting a dinner party with a travel theme. It's the perfect time to bust out those photos, don another country's national garb and show off your newfound culinary skills. Added bonus: It's a way for your friends to experience the culture rather than just merely hear about it.
The problem? Times they are a-changin'
If you've been gone for a while, chances are you won't understand some of the pop culture references people are dropping in conversation. It can be frustrating to be at a party where everyone is quoting a movie you've never heard of, or having to interrupt a conversation to ask, "I'm sorry, what's Tinder?"
The fix: Get up to speed
Luckily being "above the trends" is hip nowadays, but if it's bothering you, consider making a weekend out of it. Gather your friends for a marathon viewing of all the big Hollywood blockbusters you missed while you were gone. Buy some cheesy teen magazines and read all about these new famous people. Explore Twitter for five minutes. You'll be caught up in no time.
The problem? Endlessly reminiscing
Leaving a country can feel like being dumped and, much like the stages of a bad breakup, you're likely to go through a period of nostalgic sadness. You miss the wine, the dancing, the music and the streets. You miss the ancient buildings, the way people took their dogs everywhere and even your mean neighbor.
The fix: Find an outlet for your nostalgia
Like comparing your significant other to your ex, comparing your new home to your old one is a no-no. Luckily, there's probably a cultural exchange group in your community filled with people who share your nostalgia. You can find language exchanges in your city through websites like Meetup.com, or see if your local community center is hosting any ethnic dance or cooking classes. Chances are, there's also a Community-Based Member that works with Global Ties U.S. in your community, an initiative created by the U.S. Department of State International Visitor Leadership Program.
The problem? Too many options
When you live abroad, there's a deadline to the experience. Your trip is a bookend that makes everything feel special and like you're working toward something. Back home, with no finishing date, life can suddenly feel overwhelming or excruciatingly boring. Suddenly, you have to make decisions about your life rather than just your day. Even picking a box of cereal out of an aisle of hundreds can feel intimidating.
The fix: Channel your travel persona
While life back home may seem less exciting, perhaps it's because you approach it with less bravado than you did while on the road. Consider integrating your travel persona into your everyday life. Go with the flow when things go wrong and don't become frustrated and preoccupied with meaningless decisions like what coffee to order. Most importantly, realize that your travel life and your home life are one in the same: All you have is this one complete, interconnected, messy experience.
About the author: Ashley Hardaway is a Washington, D.C.-based food and travel writer and the author of "Other Places Publishing guide to Ukraine." You can follow her on Twitter at @ADHardaway, connect with her on LinkedIn or keep up to date on her travels at AshleyHardaway.com.