When I moved to New York City, I knew there would be challenges. I predicted I would struggle to fit in and understand various foreign customs. Yet, the reverse culture shock I experienced upon returning to Trinidad and Tobago was far worse.
In many ways, I’m still recovering.
Reverse culture shock is the feeling of confusion persons face when repatriating to their homelands as they struggle to readjust. For Caribbean people, migrating abroad, especially to more developed countries, is a challenging process that many of us take on with excitement. However, when we return home, we are left with more than just wanderlust.
Enjoyment, crisis, recovery and adjustment – those are the stages of reverse culture shock. As you find your footing in the place you once called home, read these tips that have helped me on my journey.
1. Understand that reverse culture shock is normal.
Reverse culture shock is similar to what people experience when they first move to foreign countries. Conversely, it is considered more difficult to manage because it is unexpected as persons plan to resume the lives they led before migrating abroad.
I never thought I would be so shaken by the slow pace of island life as I no longer operated in alignment with a train or bus schedule. Also, my nights were now quiet without the noise of an upstairs neighbour or the looming threat of mice.
It took weeks before sleeping in complete peace felt natural.
By preparing yourself for the change in your environment and routine, you will be less unnerved by your transition home. Additionally, understand that your discomfort is normal, and give yourself time to adjust.
2. Be patient with yourself.
Try to be gentle with yourself, regardless of how long you’ve been back in your homeland. This is particularly important as your body readjusts to the local climate, food and even the taste of water.
The spicy, heavy meals we eat in the Caribbean are difficult to process when we’re no longer used to them. Furthermore, local versions of fruits can taste very different and have dissimilar properties to their foreign counterparts.
For instance, I drank a glass of water with lemon juice every morning while living in New York. The large, rough lemons in Trinidad have less juice but are more acidic. I didn’t understand the difference and my stomach reacted badly as a result.
As your body adjusts, be patient. A few extra trips to the toilet won’t kill you but to be safe, go easy on the doubles and pepper sauce in the first weeks back.
3. Find new ways to communicate.
My first response to anyone who makes a wisecrack about me is usually, “You tried it.” It’s a term I picked up from my foreign friends. So, imagine my surprise when I say it to people in Trinidad and they have no idea what I mean.
When you return home, there will be moments when you will need to explain your expressions to the locals. In fact, it’s similar to when you moved abroad and spent much of your day breaking down creole terms to people there.
On the other hand, the popular sayings and slang in your homeland may have changed. Therefore, there will be moments when you feel out of touch with your friends and family as you learn how to communicate with them in new ways.