Raising a Traveling Tribe:: Reverse Culture Shock

by Tina on August 1, 2014

in family, Flowers

traveling mama garden flowers

The check out clerk was young and blonde, though I hadn’t really noticed that yet because I was quickly piling the five things I had planned to buy at Target onto the check out conveyor belt as well as the other 20 that had found their way into our cart.  We were on the way to meet our family at the pool so we were suppose to have just dashed in and out yet even that small task had seemed big and just a little overwhelming.

I looked up when I heard the clerk ask my husband where we were from.  What an odd question, I thought!  Then as I listened to my husband try to describe our situation, technically from here, but now just visiting, I realized how hard of a question that was to answer.  He asked her why she asked (Was it our accents?  Had we made a cultural faux pax?…) and her answer really made us laugh.  She pointed to each of us and said, “Your entire family looks like you just stepped off a photo shoot.  Your littlest is wearing a stylish hat, your other son is wearing a trendy outfit, your daughter is wearing bright lipstick, you (to Jack) are wearing a v-neck.  Each one of you has amazing style and that’s just not normal around here.”  We laughed and said that a little bit of Denmark must have come home with us, but it did make us feel suddenly self conscious about ourselves.  We had already felt like strangers in our own country but now we had someone pointing it out!

traveling mama garden flowers2-2

Reverse Culture Shock is basically the sudden shock one experiences when returning to his or her homeland.  Oftentimes there is a “honeymoon” phase when everything is exciting and wonderful, then a dip when the reality of the differences between oneself and the homeland begin to appear, and then eventually a recovery stage when one adjusts to the new norms of the culture that once was so familiar.

traveling mama garden flowers3

Reverse culture shock is something that takes many of us by surprise and can actually be quite troubling.  For instance, it feels utterly bizarre to know how to get almost anywhere within a 40 minute radius from where we are now living, including back roads and short cuts, but to feel a constant nagging feeling of being lost.

The encouraging thing about reentry or reverse culture shock, is that the honeymoon phase is awesome and on the flip side of the downward curve, most of us come out feeling more self aware, more appreciative of what is (rather than being focused on what could be or what was or any of that) and the world stops feeling like it’s in hyper living color as everything begins to feel normal again.

We are increasingly grateful to our entire family who has literally heaped love and affection upon us.  We’ve been shopping, lounging by the pool, eating all our favorite treats, picking flowers from my mom’s garden, and trying to find some sort of feeling of settledness (though not too much since this is only a six month visit.)  No one has called us weird (even though they have probably been thinking it) and have shown us grace and understanding as we re-aclimate to our homeland.

As we close out the month of July and begin August, we realize that the next five months are going to fly by, so we are going to cling to our family and live every moment to the fullest, because the end is already starting to feel a little too close.

I bet some of you have great tales to share about your own experiences with reverse culture shock.  We would love to hear about them and how you handled them!

Photography: Flowers from my mother’s garden.  Tina Fussell

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{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Papou August 1, 2014 at 3:09 pm

I really enjoyed this post! I only wish I had been there to see the scene in Target unfold.


Tina August 2, 2014 at 3:54 pm

Ha! At least for once Landon was running around like a mad man!


Liubou August 1, 2014 at 3:36 pm

When I come back to Russia/Belarus, i always feel first days really as a stranger and very much aware that now everybody speaks the same language as me every day. After a week, i am already homesick for Holland, and it is more related to the point that everything is here, and it is quite comfortable to live. However, i know that if I need i will definitely find a way around there. But after so many years abroad, people already consider you a little bit a foreigner even in your homeland.


Tina August 2, 2014 at 3:55 pm

That is so true- a foreigner in your homeland. It’s such a bizarre feeling!


Myla August 1, 2014 at 4:48 pm

I totally know what you mean. I grew up in the Philippines and go back from time to time. When I went back last year after a 14-year absence, I was completely lost. I did not know my way around the airport. I could not even use the local jargon, which is weird because I speak the language fluently albeit the more old-fashioned way. I felt like people sort of wondered what was up and where I was really from (though they did not ask me directly).


Tina August 2, 2014 at 3:55 pm

Ha! Yes, like you must have fallen off the planet or something!


Laura August 1, 2014 at 5:39 pm

I loved this post! And now I can’t wait to see how I react myself when we return to Denmark i November after four months of traveling. I bet it’s the same process as when we have to acclimatize to the new culture here and South America.


Tina August 2, 2014 at 3:56 pm

I’m guessing it will definitely give you new eyes for Denmark. I think it will be that way when we go back too. We can give each other moral support! 🙂


Andrea August 1, 2014 at 5:51 pm

The biggest moment that sticks in my mind was visiting a grocery store in NJ just a few days after returning from 4 years in Germany. I remember standing in the cereal aisle, which seemed a mile long and a million choices wide, and being completely on the verge of tears. We’d always shopped in a big for Germany grocery with maybe ten choices of cereal, and now I had a hundred to choose from. It was completely overwhelming! No one really warns you that you’ll be having culture shock in your own country.


Tina August 2, 2014 at 3:57 pm

I know that feeling well. Every time I have gone into a store I feel completely overwhelmed by the choice and we weren’t even in Africa!


anyajensen August 1, 2014 at 8:05 pm

Do you know I had the culture shock too – returning to my roots in Cph. Felt so weird and awkward – takes a while to get settled in. I also imagine the vastness of the place (US) compared to tiny DK must be overwhelming. But at least you haven’t returned to floaty skirts and that – you’re still the style queen and her cool posse 🙂
Many hugs – CPH misses you all.


Tina August 2, 2014 at 3:58 pm

I don’t know if I will be winning any style awards, but I haven’t seen much black around here! People really love color!


Kat August 1, 2014 at 9:45 pm

This so reminds me of coming back to London from France for the first time in 7 months and speaking to the man in the petrol station in French – he looked at me as if I was crazy (probably rightly so!)

Enjoy your time at home. The initial adjustment period is strange, but it will go SO quickly!



Tina August 2, 2014 at 3:58 pm

My husband does that a lot. We all laugh and tell him he’s speaking the wrong language!


Tina August 2, 2014 at 1:57 am

My first time back to Canada after living in Malaysia for several years was like merging from a country lane onto the autobahn. Everything was moving at lightning speed and I was being swept away. I was completely overwhelmed. It took me a few weeks to get my feet planted on the ground again. I also realised very quickly how everyone was so caught up in ‘labels’ and ‘designer’ brands. It seemed like everyone had lost the basic concept of humanity. It made me very sad. I had once been part of that drive to attain high end status amongst my peers. Now the important things to me are the incredible friends I have made abroad and the lessons I’ve learned from different cultures around the world.


Tina August 2, 2014 at 4:01 pm

I have felt that just from coming back from Denmark but our time in Africa really made the adjustment overwhelming. Like was moving at a super sonic and I was so overwhelmed!


Niki August 2, 2014 at 2:56 pm

That’s funny-one of my friend asked me if I was wearing my pj when we were both at the dentist. I was like, noooooo, this is Danish fashion! I had a v-neck shirt from Old Navy and one of those thin black and white summer pants from Message. Only my dentist friend noticed how European my style was. :p

I had a hard time leaving Montreal as well, it was so great to be back home and be around family and friends.


Tina August 2, 2014 at 4:00 pm

Haha! I left certain things in Denmark that I just didn’t feel like people would understand but even wearing a lot of black makes me kind of stick out. Around here only depressed or goth people wear black! LOL!!!


Inga August 2, 2014 at 9:30 pm

I thought, when I went home to Denmark for a visit from the US this summer, that I spoke Danish the way I always did, until someone asked me where I was from. My sister told the person “you should have heard her when she first got here a couple of weeks ago” ! So I guess it does come back but it is a bizarre feeling to know you are speaking your mother tounge with an accent.


Tina August 6, 2014 at 3:49 am

Everyone is wondering where our southern accents went, but they come back as soon as we start talking with our family and friends!


Ariana {And Here We Are...} August 6, 2014 at 11:08 am

I loved reading about this. We have been in England for over three years now, with our very first trip back planned for Thanksgiving this fall. Although I grew up between countries (like your kids) I always went back every couple of years or more. So, this is a long stretch for me, and of course for my 8 year old who was 5 the last time we were there. I am so curious about how it will feel!

The area we live in is extremely socially conservative, and that has been the hardest part of life in England. However, I wonder if we will feel crowded, or like everyone is overly friendly in the US. Fascinating!


Claudia August 6, 2014 at 3:59 pm

Such a nice post… I can imagine that, though I’ve never lived that long anywhere outside of Portugal, but from a few trips to the US to stay with family, I am a bit aware of the differences between the US and Europe at least. And as you say, you need to settle, but not that much because 5 months will surely fly by and in no time you’ll be heading to Denmark and feel at home again. Take care my friend!!


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