Transitioning back to America

Authored by:
Kelly P.

Kelly P.

I’ve been back in America for a little over two weeks now and it has been quite an adjustment. The biggest adjustment right away was the time difference. Thailand and Texas are a 12-hour difference, meaning complete opposite schedules. Not only was I waking up very early in the morning, I was also waking up very hungry. I would wake up around 4 or 5 the first few days and that would be a time that I would normally be eating if I was in Thailand. Jet lag was a bit frustrating the first few days until I finally got back into a decent sleeping pattern.

Not only was the time difference a bit of a struggle, but reverse culture shock also hit me much harder than I anticipated. Before arriving home, I had heard of reverse culture shock and people warned me of it, but I never fully understood the meaning. I assumed reverse culture shock was just physical differences between two cultures and learning to adapt back into the life you knew before moving away. I knew things would be a bit different, but I also knew that the way I was feeling being at home, was not normal.

Once returning home, I was sad. I was really sad. All I wanted to do was get back on the airplane and fly back to Thailand. Before arriving in America, I felt a bit guilty about not being more excited to come home.  Initially seeing my family was a bit emotional but I was excited to see them. I missed them but I was still really sad to be home. I was having feelings of disappointment and some moments felt like I didn’t have a purpose being in Texas. I think these feelings came partially from the fact that I didn’t have a solid plan upon arriving home. My coworkers in Thailand were always sending me messages about how much they miss me and pictures of the students. Seeing the pictures of the students and staff made me miss Thailand even more.

Another factor that I’m trying to work through is seeing all of my friends and coworkers still in Thailand. I see their social media posts and they are still enjoying the life that I miss so much. Some days it’s really hard to see that because I miss it. Because of covid, I was not able to see parts of Thailand that I really hoped to see. Right before leaving, the restrictions in Thailand were being loosened and people were able to travel more.

The hardest part of returning home was jumping back to a very busy lifestyle. In America, life is always so busy, and it just never seems to slow down, ever. In Thailand, life was so simple. I was finished with work at 4pm and I would have the rest of the evening to relax, run errands, go on walks, or read a book. But now that I’m home, my to do list is so long that it feels like it will never end. As soon as I get something finished, something else pops up that I need to take care of. In Thailand, my list of responsibilities was short. Not because I was lazy but because the life style was different. I didn’t need to worry about a car, or a bank account, or paying rent. Life was simple.  

After researching reverse culture shock more in depth, I’ve realized that all of these feelings and emotions are completely normal, and I don’t need to feel bad for feeling this way. Reverse culture shock is something that is so common to people who live abroad for a significant amount of time, but it isn’t always talked about. Living abroad was a big part in my life and I absolutely love talking about my experience. I’ve had to really understand that even though I want to talk about Thailand all the time and in depth, many people do not understand everything I talk about. Talking about Thailand excites me but it doesn’t excite other people around me as much. Not because they aren’t interested, but some things are just hard to understand if you have never lived abroad or been to Thailand.

As days pass, I’m able to adjust more and things become easier. I knew coming home would be difficult but I didn’t realize how much of a struggle I would have with reverse culture shock. I’m glad I was able to spend some time researching it because it is not a topic I was very knowledgeable about or even prepared for. I try to remind myself to give myself grace because it’s not an easy transition. I wasn’t just on vacation for a few weeks, Thailand is the place I called home for a period of time. It’s unfortunate that Thailand was closed to tourists the length of my stay because I wasn’t able to share my home with anyone and let them see a glimpse of my life in Thailand.

At first, I was hard on myself. I had so much to do but was just exhausted and lacked motivation. I felt a lot of guilt for the way I was feeling. I didn’t want to be back in America, I was sad, and I just wanted to be isolated from everyone. Thankfully, after doing more research I was able to understand that this is completely normal and that I needed to give myself grace during the transition back home. It’s not easy and many people don’t understand what it’s like to experience reverse culture shock. 

Before you move back to America, I would strongly advise anyone to research reverse culture shock. It isn't talked about often because not many people experience it. I wish I had researched it more before moving home that I knew that the negatvie feelings that I was experiencing were normal. 

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