When you go to another country for a long period of time, you understand that you will suffer from culture shock and have to adapt to the new environment. However, returning home can be just as difficult, or more so, than going out to another country – mainly because you do not expect to encounter any problems. The re-adapting process can be known as the resettlement curve.
Often when staying in another country (especially one vastly different to your own) you miss your regular home comforts such as the national food, everyone speaking your language, and the people you left behind. Unexpected luxuries, such as privacy, rain, and internet connection can also suddenly seem much more valuable whilst away. That is why, after immediately returning home, you go through a honeymoon period of reunion with all of these things you love. This is the first stage of the resettlement curve.
For example, when I returned to the UK after three months in Cambodia I was so excited to meet everyone that I arranged to see my best friend, boyfriend and grandparents in turn immediately after landing. I ate avocado and poached (not deep fried) chicken (not duck) egg on toast (not rice), and walked around in a cagoule feeling great about life. I remember sitting on the grass at my grandparents’ house and marvelling at how lush and green everything was.
This honeymoon period can be any length of time from a day to a couple of months. (Mine was a week or two.) However, once you get used to these everyday luxuries it is often followed by a period of reflection on the adventure you had in the country or countries just visited. At this stage, it is common to feel nostalgic about your experiences, and miss the people and the places where you stayed.
Whether volunteering, working or travelling, usually when you are abroad you have a sense of purpose. Every day you have a task to do, whether that is a meeting with the village chief, writing a report, or climbing a mountain. You feel like an important contributor to your own and other people’s experience, and even the normal things like travelling from A to B can feel like a novelty. When returning home, it is difficult to readjust to a society which bases its success in future plans and long-term goals rather than living a day-to-day existence.
Since travelling requires a lot of money, often when people return they will move back in with their parents, potentially returning to their old job and/or their old routine. This can feel like a step backwards in life instead of moving forwards, and can seem very dull compared to the daily adventure of their life abroad. When I returned from travelling, I moved back into my parents’ house. Although I enjoyed their company, I was often on my own in the house for a lot of the day, away from the town centre and not doing very much, which was quite unsettling to me after being used to a busy household and little time alone.
Coming back can also strip you of the worth and responsibilities that you had whilst away. For example you may have been the one with insider knowledge of the area, the one who knew how to write project proposals, or the leader of a team, but when returning home it can be an unpleasant realisation that the winning traits you had in another country do not translate over the border. This can lead to a sense of purposeless and, in some cases, worthlessness for the person after returning.
Last week I went to a ‘return volunteers weekend’ with fellow volunteers of ICS (the organisation who sent me to Cambodia) and we discussed the methods that had worked for us in adjusting to life in our home country.
This was some of the advice shared in the workshop:
1) Make plans. Most fellow volunteers said that planning to go to festivals, see friends, or go travelling again was the quickest way to make them feel positive about leaving their adventure behind.
2) Be mindful about your motivations. Although point 1 is effective, planning to go away again often stems from the desire to relive the experience you just had. Remember that your memories are unique to that time and place, and if you go somewhere expecting the same outcome, you will no doubt be disappointed.
3) Take time to reflect. Don’t overbook your diary in order to busy out your blues. Taking time out to think things through is necessary to move onto the next chapter in life.
4) Don’t drink away your sorrows. A volunteer mentioned that they went out a lot more after coming home in order to alleviate their boredom. Apparently it didn’t help, and made them feel worse.
5) Accept that you’re miserable. Often feeling guilty about not settling in well into home life is what really gets to people. Accept that you feel bad, and that it’s natural, and then you can move on.
6) Talk to people who shared you experience. After spending so much time with people going through the same things as you, it can be isolating to return to a community which doesn’t share your new perspective. Chatting to people who have had a similar experience to you can make you feel much more positive about the situation.
7) Shake up your life. If you wanted to move house, get a job, go vegan, start martial arts, do some volunteering, get back in touch with a friend, write a song, or learn how to make a mean lasagne before going away, now is the time to do it. Change will lead to empowerment and will help you to focus on life ahead of you, rather than the memories behind.
Personally, the thing that made me get over my post-travelling blues was getting a job a month after leaving Cambodia and moving out of my hometown. Although I’m now living quite far away from my friends and family, I think that the change of scene has helped me feel more optimistic about the future and has given me new goals to work towards.