Navigating the Maze of Intercultural Experiences: A Personal Journey Through Reverse Culture Shock


Growing up with parents from different cultural backgrounds has been an enriching journey for me. I've gained a unique perspective on the world that I wouldn't have otherwise. In this piece, I'll share my experiences with intercultural adaptation and the unexpected phenomenon of reverse culture shock.

During my childhood, my parents had a diverse mix of cultural backgrounds. My dad's heritage intertwined Chinese and Kailinese roots, while my mom's background was Kupangnese. Therefore, our everyday experiences, from cooking to decision-making, were influenced by different cultural perspectives. Moreover, our family was living in the migrant community in Java, Indonesia, due to my dad's job, and it made me also exposed to Javanese culture, which added to my cultural knowledge. That is why I learned, or was forced to learn from a young age, how to navigate the subtle differences in customs, languages, and social interactions.

Despite my multicultural upbringing, when I am confident I can adapt quickly to every cultural situation, I still faced significant cultural challenges when my family moved to Palu, my father's hometown in Central Sulawesi. The slower pace of development in Palu compared to Java meant adapting to a different lifestyle. Simple things, such as switching from LPG cooking to traditional methods, were initially daunting, and language presented another hurdle. While I spoke Bahasa Indonesia, my proficiency in Javanese proved a barrier, as the Palu dialect differed significantly from the version I was familiar with. This period marked my first experience with culture shock, emphasizing that adapting to new environments can be challenging even with a lot of cultural diversity experience and background.

The story took a sudden twist when I returned to Java for my studies. Upon my return to Java, I was taken aback by an unexpected turn of events. It was like a full-circle moment as I found myself back in my original cultural environment. I encountered another bout of culture shock. Despite growing up in Java, I had difficulty adjusting to the taste of Javanese cuisine and could not speak the language fluently.

This phenomenon is something I have known as reverse culture shock, experienced by individuals who return to their home culture after an extended period living in another cultural environment. The changes in one's routine and the unfamiliarity of a once-familiar climate can create a sense of disorientation. My experience highlights that even when we think we know our own culture, encountering changes and expectations can lead to cultural shocks.

Reverse culture shock hit me like a wave of disorientation and unease. Unlike the initial culture shock I had faced when I first arrived in a foreign environment, this time, it was happening upon my return home. It took various forms, but the common symptoms included feeling disconnected from my native culture and being challenged to conform to the standards and principles I had always taken for granted. This was due to my experiences in different cultures, which gave me new perspectives, priorities, and attitudes. When I returned to my home culture, I found myself in constant conflict between my newly acquired outlook and the established cultural norms. Simple daily activities that were once second nature became sources of distress, and everyday interactions that were once routine now felt like challenges, leading to frustration and irritability. I found myself idealizing the culture of the place I had visited, focusing only on the good things and romanticizing my experiences while ignoring the challenges I encountered. My friends had difficulty relating to my new perspectives and experiences, which made me feel isolated. Lastly, I struggled with losing my identity as I tried to reconcile who I had become through my travels with the person I used to be.

There were various reasons why I experienced reverse culture shock. Firstly, my exposure to different cultures, languages, and ways of life during my travels led to significant personal growth and self-discovery. However, re-adjusting to my old environment and integrating this new, evolved version of myself was challenging upon returning home. Then, my experiences in different cultures shifted my priorities and values, which often did not align with what my family, friends, and society expected of me, causing misalignment. I also noticed that societal norms, politics, and the pace of life had changed, making once familiar things seem foreign and outdated. I tended to romanticize my time while experiencing a new culture, leading to unrealistic expectations for my home life, which often failed to meet the idealized memories I had created.

Coping Strategies I Employed for Reverse Culture Shock

Maintain an Open Mind: I approached my home culture with an open mind by acknowledging that positive and negative aspects exist in every culture. I embraced the opportunity to learn and grow from my overseas experiences.

Share My Experiences: I tried to communicate with friends and family about my time, personal growth, and lessons learned. Sharing my experiences helped foster understanding and empathy.

Seek Support: I found solace by connecting with individuals who had also encountered reverse culture shock or resided in diverse cultures. Support groups, online forums, and counseling sessions proved to be beneficial outlets for expressing and working through my emotions.

Set Realistic Expectations: I learned to avoid idealizing or demonizing my host or home culture. I understood that both had their strengths and weaknesses.

Embrace Reintegration: I approached the reintegration process as an opportunity to create a new, enriched identity that incorporated the best of both worlds—my experiences living in a different city and my cultural roots.

Practice Self-Care: I prioritized activities that improved my physical and emotional health to deal with reverse culture shock. This included exercising, practicing mindfulness, and spending quality time with the people I cared about.

Stay Curious: I continued to explore and learn about my home culture as if I were a newcomer. I discovered new aspects of my culture, visited places I hadn't been before, and engaged in local events and activities.

Going through reverse culture shock was both challenging and transformative for me. I understood it was a natural response to the changes and growth I experienced while living in another environment. I found a way to integrate the valuable lessons and perspectives I gained into my life back home, finding a balance between my cultural experiences and cultural roots, ultimately leading to a more fulfilling life.

When navigating the complexities of intercultural experiences, whether adjusting to new environments or facing unexpected challenges upon returning home, it's important to approach everything with an open heart and mind. My background reminds me that embracing cultural diversity and being open-minded is crucial when navigating the ever-changing world of cultural interactions. By recognizing the potential for culture shock and adjusting our expectations accordingly, we can truly appreciate the richness of the world's many cultures and adapt to new environments with grace and humility. It's a journey that's worth taking, filled with surprises, self-discovery, and personal growth that comes from embracing the complexities of our interconnected world.

Writer: Rani Roanliq L.
Arinda Risma W.