The culture shock that no one tells you about

When we moved to Lebanon three years ago, we were prepared to deal with culture shock.  Now, we weren’t actually sure which aspects of culture we’d struggle with, but we were armed with information & statistics, realistic expectations, and cute little phrases to help us through (“it’s not bad, just different;” “you’ll need to make at least a million mistakes if you want to learn the language well” and so on).  That’s not to say we didn’t struggle, we definitely had out moments of frustration and annoyance and “how can people live like this” thoughts, but overall, we managed well, and I think a lot of this had to do with the preparation we went through.

When we went back to the States this summer, we were prepared to deal with reverse culture shock.  We expected it, we looked for it, we found it.  But it was more funny than traumatizing (Caleb going to the store for diapers, for example, and coming home an hour and a half later with…. let’s just say he had two grocery bags very very full of stuff).  More funny than shocking because we we prepared for it.

But no one told me about coming BACK.  We aren’t coming back to somewhere new – we’ve spent the past three years exploring and learning to love this culture.  And it’s not like we were gone very long – just the summer.  But man, culture shock hit us like a ton of bricks this time around, and I was surprised by that!  We’ve talked to several other families who spent the summer outside of Lebanon, and it seems many of them had similar feelings upon their return.

I’m wondering…. is it just a natural part of living overseas?  Will this happen every time, or just after the first big trip away?

Or maybe it has more to do with bringing a family back? (When we first moved here, it was just Caleb and me.  Isla was born here, and this summer was the first significant amount of time she’s spent in the States).

Or was it just because we were totally unprepared and expecting a smooth transition?

I’m curious to hear those of you who’ve been doing this longer than we have… was coming back after your first home assignment difficult?  Did it get easier?  What can we do to help others be more prepared than we were for re-entry??  Would love to hear your thoughts!!!

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11 thoughts on “The culture shock that no one tells you about

  1. The first night we were back I remember thinking that our house was cold and gross. Even though it was clean, some things had been moved b/c our windows/ceiling had been leaking, and just that little thing, combined with no hot water and really wanting a shower just about sent me over the edge! That’s the only specific thing that I remember being really bothered by–just that home here didn’t feel comfortable–it didn’t feel like home. Have you had more frustrations interacting with people or systems or environment?

    • Yeah, the house was just the beginning! And it was all downhill from there. Nothing out of the ordinary as far as interactions with people and culture and all that – it was all things you’d expect here in Beirut. It just hit us really hard, for some reason!

  2. I’ll attempt this on the IRL blog next week and also open it up to a hopefully wider audience. I think in a nutshell I do experience a bit of this each time in and out. yes, and even after just a summer trip to the U.S. You are not alone! More later….

  3. …you are so, very much, NOT alone in this Nicolette! I appreciate your thoughts here, your questions.
    …yes, in my experience, it does get easier. AND, in my experience, yes it happens each and every time you come and go. And, then you start to factor in your kids— their expectations, their shock, their ups and downs—and yes, you have a challenge on your hands.
    We have found that talking a lot together before, during and after any transition has been helpful. And, honest sharing of both positives and negatives of either-home, is always a good tool (for myself and my kids). What can we expect? What are we hoping for? What is reality and what are the true things about here and there— our two homes. What do we like, what do we NOT like? …we have made lists together.
    I notice (on the side bar) your “swim lessons” post… obviously you are already talking much about their favorites in Arizona… good communication! I really think that is key. Good communication and honesty among st yourselves and with God.
    Let them (and you!) compare and contrast honestly. And talk to Father about both places. He agrees that neither is your home… and yet has given you both! Okay, I think I have shared too much already— but, i really loved your post and will be back to read more.
    …if you are wondering, I found you via Jamie Jo!

    • Thank you so much for your sweet reply. I think I’ve been a bit afraid of comparing too honestly… because I’m pretty sure that one list will be full of positives and the other full of negatives :) at least if I were to make the lists right now. But it’s a good habit I’m sure to get into, especially for the sake of our kids! Thank you so much for the suggestion!

  4. Yes, we have the same experience still, and we’ve been going back and forth yearly for five years. I do one thing to help me prepare… I type up ‘Notes to self’ regarding the topic… going both ways actually. One year, in the midst of culture shock repeat upon landing in North Africa again, I wrote down all the things that shocked me (the intense heat, the crazy dust, the exhaustion, etc) in a document. I thought I was prepared, but I wasn’t fully. Now I glance over those notes before I return to Africa again… it helps me to remember what I experienced when I did it previously, and I can better prepare myself for it. And for me, the mental preparation is most of the battle. I do the same for going home to the U.S… I make notes re: the challenges of living with family, visiting churches, etc. I glance over them upon arrival and I remember what I’m gonna be dealing with. :) This has been a great tool for me.

    • Thanks for the comment! I love love love the idea of making a “shock list” as a reminder of what to expect next time we leave and come back. So helpful!!

  5. 28 years, 4 countries, 4 languages and 5 cultures. it still not only happens upon re entry, it can sweep in and grab me unexpectedly almost anywhere. You are very normal!

    • Hee hee, I’m sure some in my family might laugh at the thought of me being very normal :) :) :) but it’s nice to know that in this situation at least, I am!!! Thanks for sharing!

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