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Tackling Reverse Culture Shock

Just over a year ago, I was offered the chance of a lifetime to move to the Philippines to work for Kaya. Having a rather severe case of the travel bug, I jumped at the chance and set off to have what turned out to be one of my greatest adventures yet – I saw the most beautiful places I have ever seen, made some lifelong friends and collected so many fabulous and ridiculous memories, I don’t even know where to begin when I try to tell stories about it now!

When I first moved out to the Philippines, although I had travelled through Asia as a backpacker before, I struggled with culture shock for a time. After a few weeks though, I had gone through all of the stages of culture shock I had been warned about and I was settled into my new life. I spent the following 9 months discovering new things about the culture and, without realising it, I started living a Filipino life.

At the end of my time in the Philippines, I was very sad to leave, but excited to get back to normal life in the UK. My return, however, was not as easy as simply slipping back into my “normal” life. I went through a transition period when I returned which I can probably most accurately describe as “reverse culture shock”. Coming home was like discovering a new culture all over again, and UK culture is very different to the one I had become accustomed to!

There is so much information out there on how to deal with leaving home and living abroad, but no one warns you what it will be like when you return! These are some of the things I had to tackle on my re-entry to the UK.

  • Fast-paced life – in the Philippines, as in many other nations where we send volunteers, everything moves very slowly. While this was irritating for a while, I got used to it and just slowed down too! When I got back, it was terribly confusing to have everything running to strict timetables – buses are on time, people meet you at exactly the time they say they will, 9am means 9am rather than ‘some time after 9am, probably 11ish’ – nightmare!
  • Cost of living– for a while I converted everything from pounds to pesos, until everyone got bored of my overuse of the phrase “do you have any idea how many pesos that is!?!”
  • Not being treated like a celebrity – I thought I really disliked being paid attention for being a foreign woman in the Philippines, but when it stopped and no one treated me like a celebrity any more, turns out I missed it!
  • Friendliness – while people in the UK are not unfriendly, social norms are definitely different – I had got used to saying hello and waving to everyone I came across.

The toughest thing about returning home, is the fact no one knows what you have experienced. You will of course tell your stories and all your friends and family will love hearing about it, but its tough to relive it with people who weren’t there. So coming home after an adventure can be something of an anti-climax, but its certainly not all doom and gloom! Here are my top tips for combatting reverse culture shock:

  • Talk about it – tell your stories, relive those memories and make everyone want to travel to the place you were as much as you wanted to!
  • Eat – All those foods you were deprived of when you were away, eat them all. I think I ate about 28 sandwiches in the week I returned, because bread and cheese are nigh on impossible to get in the Philippines.
  • Keep in touch with the people you met – You know how your family and friends don’t really understand what it was like? Well all the people you met do, so keep in touch with them, meet up and talk about how great it was!
  • Be patient – its ok if it takes a bit of time to get used to, don’t let go of your memories just because you’re home.
  • Plan your next trip! – This is the perfect time to start thinking about where to go next, because once you fully settle back into life, its easy just to carry on with the normal routine and forget how fantastic it was when you were away. Having something like another trip to focus on in the future will keep you positive too!

You may well find once you return, that you have developed an incurable sense of the travel bug. This is something everyone here at Kaya suffers from, embrace it and keep planning your new adventures!!


If you’re interested in volunteering in the Philippines, click here for more information.

Linda – Placement advisor at Kaya