5 Places You Might Feel Surprisingly at Home during Reverse Culture Shock

place you might feel at home during reverse culture shock

Reverse culture shock is famous for making places we once felt like home feel quite the opposite.  It’s pretty common in this season of our life to feel like a fish out of water.  But I’ve also been surprised by some of the places I felt surprisingly comfortable in the first months and years back in the states.

Here are five places I have found myself feeling strangely at home during reverse culture shock {as much as it’s possible to feel completely at home in this season}.  Do any of these resonate with you?  What are your places that you feel comfortable in the season of reentry?

1.  International Grocery Stores.  Some days I find it less intimidating to shop at a Latin American grocery where I am the only Caucasian then to go to Walmart and wade through the myriad of options.  There is something soothing to my soul about being in a place where you can’t read all the labels, and you hear more than one language spoken.  Even Asian grocery stores {I’ve never lived in Asia} seem easier {although I had to laugh one day when at the Asia grocery I was talking to one of the employees in Spanish about Thai food.}

2.  Airports.  Here’s a confession.  There was an afternoon about year after I moved back to the states when I went to the airport just to sit there and have a cup of coffee.  No flight.  No reason to go to the airport.  But I went and paid the crazy parking prices and the cost of my over priced Starbucks.   Why?  Because in airports give us permission to be in transition.  It’s OK in airports to not have the future all figured out.

3.  International restaurants.  For me it was taco places…for you it may be something else.  But there’s something refreshing about going to an international eating establishment that feels a little less polished, has a menu that is only in another language, the staff speak only broken English, and your skin color is in the minority.  Even if it’s not food from your former country of service…you still get the feeling of adventure.

4.  Starbucks.  OK…before you say that is SO NOT true for me, let me explain.  When I lived internationally, my escape was Starbucks.  I lived in a very big city…and Starbucks was a safe place I could go with my journal and escape the stress of cross cultural living.  It was my outlet.  I’m not sure what your outlet was overseas.  Where you went to get a break, but chances are there is a place or an activity that you did to help cope.   For me a morning at Starbucks with my journal was my respite in the midst of the chaos of big city life.  And so when I came back…I had this strange emotional connection to Starbucks.  Which helped…I would go there and process.  {I quickly discovered though that this wasn’t so good on my budget…needed to find a place to process that did not require a purchase}  So what is that for you?  What was your outlet overseas? Is there something close to that in the US?

5.  Volunteering with immigrant families.  Want to hang out with people who understand what it’s like to make a cultural transition?  Spend some time with refugee and immigrant families.  This probably isn’t possible for the beginning season of your reentry process {there is sometimes little energy in the beginning to add extra things to life}, but eventually I have found it very helpful to get to know those in the US who don’t call this their first home.  Even if we can’t communicate in the same language, these families have taught me some seasons of life are meant to be hard…and the reentry/reverse culture shock season is just one of those seasons.  My international friends don’t try to make life better or to sugar coat situations.  Life is what it is.  Good and bad.  Fun and hard.  So…find a way to connect with someone who is an immigrant.  Whether it’s the mom down the street whose husband is here for work or the international students in a college in your town or refugee families being placed in your city by a resettlement agency.  You may find that you feel strangely at home.

So…do any of these resonate with you?  What places have you felt strangely at home in this re-entry season?

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Ruthie

Ruthie formerly served cross culturally in Central America. She had her own rocky reentry back to the USA about eight years ago. She currently lives in the Midwest where she enjoys volunteering with refugee families, shopping international grocery stores, and drinking cups of coffee with friends.

23 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Yes!
    I haven’t volunteered with immigrant families…. but all the others made my heart beat faster! Haha. Now you’ve got me pondering volunteering with immigrant families. I feel that I’d have compassion… from experience.

    • Alison, yes…you would have an extra level of understanding of what it’s like to be in a new place. Tonight I helped some new immigrants figure out how to figure out if school was closed or on a 2 hour delay is for snow. Because they’ve never lived in a place where there was snow…and of course it’s good to know if the school bus is coming or not. So many fun adventures! Thanks for sharing!

  • Yes to all of the above, except Starbucks, which ironically arrived in our nearest city in Mexico just as we were departing. One thing I have been doing here in Michigan is to interpret for Spanish-speaking families during parent-teacher meetings at the schools. That makes me feel at home. After seven months of living here, I have only just now begun going to the local Mexican market without crying.

    • I love the interpreting for parent-teacher conferences idea! What a great way to use a little Spanish and be able to help out.

  • Yes! Four all five , YES! After coming back from Spain six years ago, I was in a haze for a year. Then, our mission sent us to Toronto to head up a volunteer program, which we loved–they were alll from Germany. But my real outlet came through volunteering at a faith-based home for recently-arrived asylum- seekers to Canada. It was such a joy to connect to other foreigners who just lived life as it came every day, and to be a witness for Christ in daily living with them.

    I’ve been back in the States again for three years, having recently moved to the New York area, and am again, looking for that special place of ministry.

    • Donna, I like how you said it “just lived life as it came every day.” Thanks for sharing and joining us here at RockyReentry.

      • Ruth(ie),
        I just wanted to say a big thank you for creating this online resource community! Although I’m Canadian, I feel that I can relate completely, since it’s a return to “North American” life….

        I’ve passed the word on to a huge bunch of my ministry/missionary (current and past) friends and so there has been an influx of new people to the site and mainly liking the Facebook page! Wanted to pass it on!

        Bless you!
        Alison

    • What is the name of the ministry you volunteered for in Toronto that worked with recently-arrived asylum seekers to Canada? I live near Toronto and am considering a move into the city and just trying to seek out some options.

      • I volunteered with Adam House. And I loved it! While I was there, I basically managed the kitchen. They used to get a delivery from the Second Harvest every Tuesday, which is also the day they have a community supper following an optional bible study. Adam House in one of the few temporary residences of its kind that can accommodate small families. There is also Matthew House, which is also in Toronto.

  • Coffee, airports…I went and walked down the wing of an airport several times that I used to frequent when on furlough. Then I found my coffee shop and felt a breath of fresh air! I’d stopped by an International market the night before! I’ve been back for 1.5 years after 12 years out; thinking originally I was merely taking 6 months out for a rest. Yes it takes time. …and lots of coffee chats w good friends…some virtual coffee chats!

  • Ruthie, I can absolutely identify with all of these, replacing Starbuck’s with a local Expat own restaurant- same effect.

    Toward the end of my 10 years abroad in Azerbaijan- actually the way I knew I had to make a change- I found I would go home and stay all Friday night after work and spend Saturday sleeping, then force my self to go out on Sunday afternoon for some fresh air and social contact with others expats.

    So why, oddly enough, when I got home, did I want to be in the international markets again? To be a minority again speaking with others from overseas? Why did I feel most comfortable speaking little broken bits of Russian when I go out to ethnic places? That’s been the oddest part of this repatriation journey…

  • Yes – I hear you on Starbucks for sure! There was something about the smell of Starbucks that was comforting and always the same whether I was in China, Japan, Peru – wherever that just made it (and still makes it) just feel welcoming! And I love to go to Chinese restaurants in the US and just chat (though I always order food too!)

  • We recently were invited to a hispanic family’s house for dinner. Many of us all piled around a table to eat beans and other items I didn’t even recognize. A visitor popped by, and we pulled up another chair and happily squeezed in the surprise addition. Although we lived in Africa for ten years, not Latin America, the cultural similarities delighted my kids and me. All the food was made from scratch, just as we had done for so long. The foreign language spoken around us was like ointment on our ears. The warm welcome of unexpected guests echoed of our lives in the past. The whole experience was very healing for us. Yes, I wholeheartedly recommend connecting with international families. It really is salve for the soul!

  • Thanks for this Ruthie. I never connected before why my favourite places to go are just that. I’ve grown up abroad – a daughter of Christian visionaries, and have happily “settled back” in the UK after many years, but still my favourite places are:
    1. The international section of our town’s largest hypermarket
    2. Plane-spotting at airports
    3. International restaurants
    4. McDonalds (it was my father’s favourite restaurant actually)
    5. My very international school where I teach English

  • This sounds good… I mean I’m not reentering yet but I presume I will one day! I’m very at home in airports and know all the ways to entertain young children in them AND we’ve just got our first Starbucks here, so can imagine that becoming a home-away-from-home any time soon!

  • All of the above is true for me, except I have not, up until now, volunteered with immigrant families. I consider myself one of those hidden immigrants now, having moved to the US and sounding a lot like an American and looking like one. I recommend that everyone keep the “global vibe going” in your life, in order to sew our lives together it’s both healthy and necessary to have a seamless experience of moving. Our family has had six re-entries to the US now in total. What amazing journeys full of lessons and stories. Grateful for your site.

  • 6 years home and I just found a little mediterranean restaurant /shop. I walked in and tears came to my eyes, it look so familiar, but why? We lived in Haiti.. not there. Then I found out the shop owners were syrian. Most of the grocery stores in Haiti have syrian roots in one way or another. I was never so happy to see products I couldn’t read! And the smells were just right. Then we ate dinner at the back in the tiny 10 table restaurant and it took forever (just like Haiti) and the food came it and it tasted just like our favorites… so strange to find “home” in a place I never would have dreamed to call home. I now go to get .. ready for this … full cream powdered milk. I don’t feel prepared in my pantry without it being in there. I couldn’t find it anywhere else except amazon lol. They have maggie cubes.. Hurray.. so they aren’t good for you, but they make the rice taste so nice. I figured once in a while will keep us smiling and remembering the good things.

  • oh I don’t know if it was mentioned, but volunteering teaching english as a second language charity organization is wonderful. Sometimes we had nights of everyone bring from their host country, a food, and they all loved “my Haiti” chicken so much they fought over it… Just made me smile.. I don’t do it now, it was only for a season for me, but I encourage it.

  • One of my favourite haunts in Australia is Free Trade stores. When I see one I immediately go in and feel very comfortable because I see products that I know. And it seems that I can identify almost all the products and where they come from. It does help my estrangement from the places I have lived in for so long.

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