The Ghana Files: Reverse Culture Shock

Culture shock is the feeling of disorientation that a person might feel when living in a foreign country. When you arrive in a new place where things are done differently, it’s a given that you are going to experience some challenges!

Culture shock typically happens in a few phases. New arrivals are usually over-the-moon excited to be at their destination. After a while, you start to notice more subtle differences from your home culture and frustration may begin to set in. At some point you might start to feel homesick and even depressed. Eventually you start to find your footing, and things start to become easier. Finally, you accept and embrace your host culture and finally start to feel like you live there.

Interestingly enough, this can also happen in reverse. After spending extended time in a foreign place, some people report being disoriented upon their return to their home country. After the initial excitement of returning, they may be hit by similar feelings of frustration or sadness. This phenomenon is known as reverse culture shock, and can present a very big challenge to some people as they return to their home countries. They might start to feel lonely or depressed, and might look for ways to go back. With time, they hopefully begin to adjust as they incorporate what they learned abroad into their new lives.

So the question is: did I experience reverse culture shock?

I will say that there were some slight feelings of “shock” upon my initial return. I remember being in the car on the way back from the airport and being surprised at the amount of white people. We stopped at the grocery store and I had a good chuckle over the green peppers, which are enormous compared to those sold in Ghana. I had a major flashback at the farmer’s market this weekend while buying tomatoes; I flinched when my mom handed the money over with her left hand and almost blurted out medaase which is a way of saying thank you in Twi.

Overall, I do not feel like I’ve experienced reverse culture shock. I had a unique and rewarding experience in Ghana, but I am very thankful and happy to be back. I find myself being more grateful for random things: seat belts, trains, air conditioning, drinkable tap water, wifi, reliable power, warm running water. I often find myself comparing things and thinking “if only my friends back in Ghana could see this” or conversely “if only you knew how it was in Ghana.” On the whole, I do not feel sad, depressed or disoriented. In fact I feel like I fell back into my life as if I had never left.

Perhaps I would have experienced more culture shock if I had stayed longer. To be totally honest, I also never looked at Ghana as if it was my “new home.” Maybe things would be more shocking if I had completely expatriated to Ghana and had to return for some reason that felt beyond my control. In my mind though, living in Ghana was always this thing that I was doing for one academic year.

Regardless of how much or how little culture shock I’ve experienced, the fact of the matter is that my time in Ghana has helped me to grow and to change in ways that I never expected. That is the beauty of travel. Every country you visit opens you up to a whole new field of experiences, and hopefully changes you in one way or another.

In just a few days I will be leaving for London, and I’m sure I will begin the culture shock cycle all over again!

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