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Tips for Combatting Reverse Culture Shock

by Laura on March 1st, 2013

My Serb friends are asking, Why are you going back, anyway? Why not just stay here and enjoy the simple life?

My American friends are wondering, So, what’s your plan? When are you coming back? Why in the hell did you stay in Serbia of all places for so long?

I definitely don’t have all the answers. Suffice-it-to-say, it’s time. It’s time to return to the U.S. (towards the end of this year). With that in mind, I asked a former expat, blogger and mom for some advice for coping with “reverse culture shock.” Yeah, it’s a thing.

Marie blogs at Rock the Kasbah, about her adventures in Morocco with her husband and four children. Now that they’ve moved back to Colorado, I had to pick her brain.

1. What was the reason for your “repatriation”?

And, how can I help my kids–aged three and five, with the transition? Specifically, avoid temper tantrums?

Marie says, “My hubby took that pic of me in a little Moroccan town where I contracted a very stubborn parasite. So, it’s very special to me.”

Marie — My husband was working for the Peace Corps [in Morocco] for 2.5 years and our time was up.

When we moved from Germany to the States with three kids, ages five, four and two, the hardest part at that age is the travel sitting next to them on the plane and the residual jet lag. Other than that the transition back to American life will probably be much, much too easy on them.

And much, much harder on you.

2. How can I minimize my own temper tantrums?

Marie — Why minimize it? You’re totally entitled to a temper tantrum!

If you want to cry at the store when you have to choose a brand of paper towels out of the twenty-five available and you wish you were back in Serbia, where there’s only one and you didn’t have to think about how much stress comes with so many choices. Then cry. Cause then those annoyingly “helpful” clerks won’t ask if you need help or tell you to have a nice day.

3. What was the hardest adjustment you’ve had to make personally?

Marie – My kids adjusted back to being normal American kids within a week. I’m still upset about that fact. Because my kids are ages 14, 13, 11 and 8, I thought with all they’d seen in Africa that they’d realize that they don’t need stuff to be happy. Yet, they still all want cell phones and every other thing their friends have.

4. Any additional advice?

You’re involved in pole-dancing, belly dancing, in addition to writing (and working on a book, right?) … Are you able to do more or less now that you’re back? I mean, is it easier or more difficult to manage your time, or are there just more fun things to do in the States?

Marie – Savor your time there and the simplicity before you come back. Because once you’re here, you can get anything anytime you want and that makes things much more complicated!

I also joined a band recently, so you can add that to the list.  Yeah, there’s lots more to do in the States, so that’s one thing.  Another is your 40′s are just crazy busy, no way around it.  And since a lot of that crazy busy stuff is also crazy stressful stuff (especially with four kids), I need to do fun stuff to counteract that.

I’ve learned through life that when opportunities come around … So, when two of my other mom friends can do Wednesday night band practices too, it’s a major miracle that may never come around again.  So do it.  Do it now!  Also, in America not being busy is a sin punishable by promoting you to PTO chairman*.

I would love to live overseas again. When we lived in Morocco, we had one teenager.  Now we have two.  They think the world is against them anyway and then when you move them halfway around the world, well,  it’s even more of a challenge.  Even though I think all of my kids were actually happier without all the modern trappings of the latest and  greatest America has to offer.  They would tell you different.

Never say never!

*  *  *  *  *

* I was only familiar with PTA–Parent Teacher Association, so I thought I was completely out-of-the-loop with my American acronyms (PTO–Potty Training Organizer?) and going to have a tougher time adjusting than I thought. But Marie said I guessed right: PTO stands for Parent Teacher Organization. *Wipes sweat off face.*

Anyhoo … Thanks, Marie! Be sure to check out her funny, irreverent blog, Rock the Kasbah.

Image from Photo courtesy of Marie.

  1. Those are very interesting insights. I've always thought expatriating with your family makes the experience so much easier, but I didn't think that would hold true for re-patriating. Maybe that's because my husband and I expatriated from South Africa to the U.S. by ourselves. I left my young adult children behind; they had their own lives to live. Three years later, we set out to re-patriate and realized it would be financially disastrous. We felt 'stuck' in the U.S. for years. It's only now, more than ten years later and having become citizens, that we're able to accept our circumstances…well, sort of, because life is never the same without having the family around.

    Thanks for sharing Laura and Marie.

    • Laura permalink

      Yes, it is a totally different experience to expatriatie or re-patriate without one's family! I can't even imagine, well I can, because I'm reading your book, Out of Sync, but I mean, it's hard to think of it because my kids are so little.
      I'm glad you've been able to find some peace in your circumstances, even if they aren't ideal :)

  2. Well, there is another alternative: don't go back home! I might not stay in London but I don't want to go back to France. Go figure…

    Having said this, I will say cheers to two inspirational women!

    • Laura permalink

      Yes! That is always an option, but we'd always figured we'd go back to the U.S. at some point. Belgrade was never a permanent move … plus I miss Target and Starbucks :)

      • It seems to me that you are still American at heart…I don't know where I am from any more!

  3. Deep down all of us moms are JEALOUS of how cool it is that you and your family had the chance to absorb another culture and taste another life. But when you DO come back, we have to meet on the westside:))

    • Laura permalink

      Yes!! Definitely. I totally miss LA, and the westside and shopping, ohhh … I miss shopping in Beverly Hills …

  4. Marija Taraba permalink

    Hi Laura,

    I would not say for sure that kids will adapt easily! You said yourself, things that are ok here, are not ok in the USA and that may come as a problem. For instance, when we moved back from The USA to Belgrade, my kids where shocked by the amount of friendliness from other kids in parks. Kids would just approach them and ask if they can play together. I do not want to generalize but in NJ that never happened!! Also, kids and parents often offer snacks to share here in Belgrade, in NJ everyone sticks to their own bag ( I know kids have more food allergies in The USa, but they can still offer..) So reversing that may be a little shock to them….. Also, freedom is still biger here at least for little kids.

    Maybe you do not have to look at the things like "we are moving back" but rather lets go and see if we still want to live in The USA. Do not get me wrong, I was so home sick for Belgrade and I understand you miss LA!

    • Laura permalink

      Yes! I was always initially surprised how easily kids are encouraged to share their snacks here. It's considered rude not to. However, of course, I'm still the uppity American who makes my kids ask the parents if it's okay :)
      The freedom issue is a big one for me — I love how much freedom my kids have here, and I don't think they realize it as such. There are no concepts of "stranger danger," or "appropriate touch." Although, she did tell me that she heard froma friend at school that "gypsies steal children." Although, at least she knows to use the word "Roma" around her more PC mommy :)
      I know–there are good things and bad things everywhere. It's not an easy decision, for sure …

  5. Marie's 'threat' of one possibly becoming PTO chair scared the hell out of me so I will do my best to follow her advice! :-))

    • Laura permalink

      Yes! Keep busy, or at least keep the "appearance" of business — good call

  6. Nice post Laura! After leaving Zambia almost over 25 years ago…me and my husband are considering leaving the UK and heading back to Zambia…but the culture from when I was born and grew up has dramatically changed. Whether I can keep my head up high and not be effected by the culture shock is something which worries me. Especially when having two boys ages 21 and 23!

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