top of page

Returning home? Get ready for reverse culture shock

Think back to when you relocated overseas. You probably spent time researching your destination and made sure you were as prepared as you could be. You looked into the best areas to live, read up on your new county’s history and found places you could visit at the weekend. Perhaps you even learnt the language or attended intercultural training. While you were planning for your international relocation, no doubt you were excited and looking forward to new challenges and adventures, but moving overseas you expected life to be different and to experience times of homesickness or ‘culture shock’ .

Expatriate with pen in hand looking at a map
Preparing for reverse culture shock

And now you are returning home. That’s the easy part, isn’t it? Well, not so fast. Lots of studies and anecdotal evidence have found that expatriates often find it tougher readjusting to life back home than they did to starting out in a new country - perhaps because we don’t expect going home to be hard but also because this time we are leaving a life which we are less likely to return to.

Here are five pointers to consider if you are in the process of returning home from an international assignment:

1.Good-bye good life.

If you are returning from somewhere like Dubai or Singapore, no doubt you will miss the warm weather, the vibrancy and the higher standards of living that enabled you to eat out more often, enjoy state-of-the art leisure facilities or experience luxury weekends away. You may even have had a maid or a chauffeur and are not looking forward to dealing with the mundane chores again. Don’t underestimate the impact of grey skies, drab landscapes and a lack of excitement on your mental well-being.

2. It’s home but not as you knew it.

Things change and people move on; we have seen how here in the UK the political climate has changed in the last five years, bringing to the surface discord and disagreements that perhaps remained hidden before. At a micro level, your favourite local restaurant may have changed hands or new development has changed the look of your hometown. Or perhaps you are landing in a new and unfamiliar city where everything is new.

3. You’ve changed.

You may have developed new skills, taken up new hobbies and adopted some of the local cultural norms during your time overseas, whether that’s a newfound love of wild swimming, a preference for later mealtimes or a taste for travelling everywhere by taxi. You have probably also changed in more subtle ways that you may not even be aware of - you have broadened your horizons and opened your mind to different world views, you’ve become more resilient during the tougher times and you’ve learnt how to adapt your approach to get things done. You have changed, but so have your family and friends; new relationships, children, their own personal dramas and workplace crises - their lives have changed and the reality is they expect you to slot back in and just might not be as interested as you hoped in your stories of overseas experience and adventure.

4. Family concerns.

Quite possibly your children didn’t want to move overseas in the first place – saying good-bye to their school friends, their clubs and hobbies and the familiar routine. But after the initial homesickness, they’ve had a wonderful time and would rather stay put than go back home. Not only will you need to prepare for your own psychological adjustment but also be mindful that your children might struggle with their own adjustment to a different schooling system, new friendships groups and the latest in-jokes and cultural references.

5. All work……

Research has shown the typically high attrition rates of expatriates returning to their home employer. They leave because they feel their new skills and knowledge are under-valued, the company has restructured and there isn’t a suitable role available or perhaps their champion or mentor has moved on and they feel neglected and isolated. Finding a new job can be just as challenging, particularly if you had to put your career on hold for your partner’s overseas assignment. You may have lost confidence, neglected your professional network or become out-of-date with developments in your industry.

Coming home can and should be a positive experience but like any transition careful preparation and management are crucial. Be aware that reverse culture shock might rear its head. Then you can put in place plans and strategies to help alleviate potential feelings of isolation and frustration and to rebuild a new life back home that captures all your new knowledge and skills.

Repatriation coaching or training can support you through your transition back home.

Originally published on


bottom of page