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Re-Entry Shock

By Breidi Truscott Roberts

Fall 2013 I-House Times

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Have you ever returned from extended time abroad and found that "home" is now foreign to you? You may have experienced reverse culture shock or what is also known as "re-entry" shock. What used to be so familiar in your home culture suddenly feels odd compared to what you had grown so accustomed to in the place where you were traveling. Reverse culture shock can actually be more difficult to deal with than the initial transition to living in a new culture since the experience is such a surprise.

I remember a colleague describing his re-entry shock when returning to live in the U.S. after years in Japan. He continued to bow at everyone for months afterward and felt strange when people weren't doing the same. His mother also got frustrated with him for not looking her in the eye, a habit he had learned in Japan.

Having recently returned from six months in New Zealand I haven't experienced re-entry "shock," per se, rather a series of observations about my native California that seem surprising. It felt odd to have a stranger tell me her whole life story with deep feeling and intimate details upon first greeting, which was so different from the less emotionally expressive Kiwis who value restraint. I was struck by U.S. American customer service with its rigid adherence to policies in contrast to the NZ willingness to bend the rules.

You can lessen the effects of re-entry shock with cultural self-awareness, an appreciation of cultural differences, being patient, and maintaining a sense of humor. These capacities will also enhance the ways intercultural experiences can enrich you both personally and professionally. Take time to track and participate in the I-House intercultural education and training offerings - visit ihouse.berkeley.edu/training.



Breidi has a Masters in Intercultural Relations from the School for International Training, is certified in Emotional Intelligence and Diversity instruction and the Cultural Detective methodology. A fellow at the Institute for Intercultural Communication's annual summer institute (SIIC), she serves on the Board of the Society for Intercultural Education Training and Research (SIETAR).