Houston, we have a problem…

Apollo cm.jpg
In sci-fi movies or films documenting space shuttle adventures, you will often have the dramatic re-entry scenes. The astronauts get ready to plunge through the earth’s atmosphere. They buckle themselves in and the tension in the film mounts. This is often seen as a massively dangerous part of the journey. Will they make it or will they burn up in a meteoric blaze to be scattered throughout the stratosphere? Apollo 13 probably has the most enduring and dramatic example of these scenes.

It’s about two and a half months until I return to the UK. I feel like I’m currently buckling myself in preparing for re-entry. There’s a lot of things to consider: what I do with my possession here, getting necessary documents ready for my return (like the “Certificate of Good Conduct” from the Ministry of Justice), planning on how to see friends and family over the summer and preparing for another academic year in the UK.

A lot of people know about culture shock: when people move to a new country or culture they often experience anxiety, stress and a sense of loss. It goes in stages and people struggle with it in varying levels. However, it’s something that is accepted, understood and often expected.

People often don’t know about something that is called reverse culture shock or re-entry shock. This is essentially the same as culture shock, but it occurs when you get back into your home country. There are various reasons for this: changes that have occurred at home and in yourself while you have been away. There’s also the sense that what you have learnt whilst away is redundant or not appreciated by others. A lack of perceived interest by others is also another problem. Often people back at home have little to relate to when you talk about your experiences. Then there’s the reverse homesickness. You have came to love your new home: the people, the culture, the customs. It’s inevitable that you will miss aspects of your experience abroad.

I was lucky when I got to Cambodia. My culture shock lasted about two weeks and was exceptionally mild. I haven’t really suffered from homesickness (possibly because I knew that a year is actually a relatively short amount of time). The only time I missed home was when I was ill; when I was better I realised I didn’t even like half the things I thought I missed.

However, I don’t anticipate it being that easy when I get back. I have really enjoyed my time here, had incredible experiences and made some really good friends. There is so much I am going to miss, whilst what I’m not going to miss is limited to mosquitoes, ants and Imodium (or rather, its necessity). So, I’m dreading the new homesickness.

I’m also quite anxious about the pressure to seem like I’m glad to be back. Of course, I want to see friends and family again, but I know I will be simultaneously struggling with the return. I don’t want people to come away feeling like I am not happy to be there with them, as any perceived unhappiness is nothing personal. It’ll be a simple case that I’ll be missing Cambodia.

How you can help

  1. Be patient with me. If I seem removed, frustrated or upset it’s just that I’m readjusting to live back in the UK. Like I said, don’t take it personally. It’s not that I no longer like you or appreciate your company. I will probably just be feeling out of place and a little bit removed from the situation. It’s like when everyone talks about that incredible party that you missed because you had the flu. It can be a bit alienating and frustrating to listen to.
  2. Expect stories. I will probably tell you far more than you want to know about Cambodia. Just smile and nod if I do.
  3. Expect mistakes or a lack of knowledge. I’ve only been away for a year, but a lot of things can change. This means that I may not know about things that are seen as obvious. Also, as I’ve tried to adjust to a new culture, I may do things a bit differently than how you expect (like, I might try to take my shoes off in random places).
  4. Expect me to be different. I’ve changed a lot. Some will be obvious (I’ve lost a stone in weight, I can now ride a motorbike and I can’t deal with cold weather anymore). Others will be more subtle and more surprising. I probably won’t even know these changes until I arrive home, so there’ll be an element of me trying to work those things for myself. Hopefully, some of the new aspects about my character will be positive, but don’t be shocked if I’m not exactly how you remember me to be.
  5. Take an interest. Ask how I’m doing and whether I’m okay. Reverse culture shock can be isolating and disorientating. It’ll be great to know that there are people who understand this and are willing to make sure I’m coping.