Reverse Culture Shock: You Can't Go Home Again
The Old Family Farm Where I Grew Up
Returning to the United States
In May of 2016, I returned to the United States to visit my sisters and brother. It had been almost two years since I was last back in the States. Thailand has now been my home since retirement in 2007. Things were different this time because no one has lived in the old farmhouse where I grew up since mom's death. I spent most of my one month planned trip with my second oldest sister. Pat who is also a vet runs a dairy farm with my brother-in-law in northeastern Wisconsin. Her farm is quite a distance from my boyhood home. There was reverse culture shock seeing the breakup of the family farm and other recent changes in U.S. society. Reentry shock also manifested itself in ten anticipated ways which I will describe in this article.
What Is Reverse Culture Shock?
Reverse culture shock or re-entry shock which is similar to culture shock is the situation of returning to your home environment, and then having to make adjustments to get used to your surroundings again. I feel that it is more painful than culture shock. When I returned to the U.S. on a trip in 2007, I remember an airline steward on my United flight out of Narita in Japan enthusiastically greeting all boarding passengers with a "welcome home" as I got on the plane. I could not share his happiness because I didn't want to go back to the United States. I knew that I would experience rootlessness, restlessness, reverse homesickness, and feelings of alienation in the U.S. because everything that I now wanted in life was in Thailand. Nothing awaited me in America and Wisconsin except a brother and three younger sisters who hadn't been that close to me for many years.
Ten Manifestations of Reverse Culture Shock
Aside from the reverse culture shock of seeing the old farm broken up, I experienced the ten following types of culture shock which most people encounter.
1. Time Change
Wisconsin, my travel destination, and Bangkok are on the opposite sides of the globe. They are separated by 12 time zones. When it was 6:00 A.M. in Bangkok the day I departed, it was 6:00 P.M.. the previous day in Wisconsin. Hence, after 22 hours of flights and layovers, when I arrived at Green Bay Airport, it was 4:00 A.M. on the following day in Bangkok, but only 4:00 P.M. on the same day in Wisconsin. After arriving in Wisconsin, my internal body clock felt like it was 4:00 A.M. Bangkok time and I was a walking zombie. This situation is widely referred to as jet lag. In the past, it had taken me two to three days to reorient to the time change.
2. Changes in Weather
When I departed Bangkok in May, Thailand was just entering the rainy season. The weather was very humid with high temperatures in the low 90s. Being in a temperate climate, Wisconsin is still in the mid-spring season. The weather in Wisconsin was a lot drier and cooler with temperatures in the 60s during the day and dropping into the high 30s at night.
3. Clothing Change
In anticipation of climate change, I wore a jacket after I arrived in Wisconsin. It seemed strange wearing a sweater, jacket, and shoes after being accustomed to short-sleeve shirts, shorts, and sandals to move about in Bangkok.
4. Density of Population
It seemed strange not seeing so many people packed into one geographical area. The Bangkok metropolitan area where I live has 10-15 million people. My sister, on the other hand, lives on a farm about two miles from a small city having a population of 40,000 at the most.
5. Different Food
In the Bangkok area, you can purchase almost any kind of food from numerous small restaurants and street-side stalls. A lot of the food includes seafood dishes with an abundance of shrimp, oysters, squid, clams, octopus, and various kinds of fish. The main staple is rice with a lot of fresh vegetables, a few potatoes, and very little bread served at meals. Cooked meat is already cut into small pieces so that Thais only use a spoon and fork when eating. When I got back to Wisconsin, I had to get used to eating again with a knife and having potatoes and bread instead of rice.
6. Driving on the Right Side of the Road
After arriving at Green Bay Airport, I rented a car to travel to my sister's farm which is about 40 miles southeast of the airport. In the U.S., people drive on the right side of the road as opposed to the left side of the road in Thailand. Besides remembering to stay on the right side of the road, I had to reacquaint myself with a left-side steering wheel as opposed to the right-side steering wheel used in Thailand.
7. Less Public Transportation
Unless you live in a remote mountainous area of Thailand, public transportation is abundant. It includes motorcycle taxis, motorized pedicabs, trucks converted into buses, taxis, trains, buses, and planes. Furthermore, if you live in or close to a city, a private motorcycle or car isn't needed. In the United States, especially outside of the inner city, a car is a necessity. If you don't have a car, it's like not having two legs. In reality, there is much less affordable public transportation in the U.S. than in Thailand.
8. Different Monetary Currencies
Before departing Suvarnabhumi Airport outside of Bangkok, I had to convert all of my Thai baht to U.S. dollars. The baht is weaker now at an exchange range of about 36 baht for one U.S. dollar, so I got fewer dollars for the baht that I exchanged.
9. Toilet Facilities
Using the toilet is a different experience in Thailand from that in the United States. Almost all Thailand homes, schools, hotels, and public establishments have toilet hoses or bum guns installed next to all commodes. It isn't necessary to use toilet paper because the high pressurized water which you use to clean your butt is much more convenient and more sanitary than using any kind of toilet paper. I didn't look forward to having to use toilet paper again in the States.
10. Having to Do Physical Labor Again
Since retiring in Taiwan, I have done very little physical labor except for working in my mother-in-law's garden. This all changed when I arrived at Pat's farm and assisted her with some barn chores.
You can't go home again, and for this reason, I expected reverse culture shock during my trip in 2016. It was nice seeing my brother, sisters, and all of their families again. At the same time, I counted the days and hours until I left to return to my present life and loved ones in Thailand.
A Toilet Hose Used in Thailand
Reverse Culture Shock Outside of Your Native Country
On a recent trip to Taiwan, I also experienced reverse culture shock. On a trip to Taiwan in 2005, I was astonished at how much Taiwan had changed in only 15 years. Many of the places that I knew so well in 1990 were gone and replaced with something entirely alien to me. The people were also different from the ones that I had known in the past. This was more reinforced on my most recent trip to Taiwan in November 2014.
Reverse Culture Shock
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2012 Paul Richard Kuehn