Reverse culture shock – learning how to come home
Kristi Fuoco


Culture shock and the process of leaving home and coming home are both intense emotional journeys.
Sometimes we are utterly alone but sometimes we have a friend shadowing us along the way. This
photo is from a lovely fall day trip to Bad Segeberg (near Hamburg) last year with a friend.


I think Germany has made me an introvert. I think living in Germany made so aware of every fault and weakness I have and in return took my confidence away. Do I even fit in back home anymore? What did I actually gain from my time abroad other than debt? Whether there is any truth in these thoughts, whether they are good or bad, these are some very real things that have gone through my mind in the three weeks since returning home along with a whole slew of other thoughts and emotions. To say that re-entry into my own country has been an emotional roller coaster so far is a rather massive North American sized understatement.  I’d like to think I was prepared for coming home. I knew to expect a challenge. I knew it wouldn’t be all sunshine and Tim Bit shaped roses. Yet, I never knew it would be quite like this.

Here I am in January 2012, right after I got my
work permit for Germany and not knowing
what adventures lay ahead.

Here I am a year later, with my new work
visa for Germany. Little did I know
I would be extending my time there!

And here I am this summer, just before
I left. I hosted a birthday/going away
party and was overwhelmed with the
amazing group of people who came
and who have come into my life this
past 18 months. I feel truly blessed.


And what is THIS exactly? According to the Wikipedia article on culture shock the phenomenon of “reverse culture shock “results from the psychosomatic and psychological consequences of the readjustment process to the primary culture. The affected person often finds this more surprising and difficult to deal with than the original culture shock.” I think the biggest difference for me between reverse culture shock and original culture shock is that when you come home you don’t expect to feel like a foreigner, so when you do, it catches you much more off guard. As I researched for this blog post I came across a quote from an article on Reverse Culture shock on that perfectly sums up how I’ve been feeling lately.

“Re-entry shock is when you feel like you are wearing contact lenses in the wrong eyes. Everything looks almost right.” -Robin Pascoe, author of Homeward Bound.

Sometimes it feels like this. You blink but the picture still
isn’t really clear. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)


When I read this quote I almost fell off my chair. I have had this strange feeling that things were almost right every day. Like I could see things almost clearly, but there was something jarring, something not quite the same that I couldn’t put my finger on. Like returning to a house that you think has been broken into but you can’t figure out what was taken. And perhaps the thing that is taken is me. I took myself from this place and made a new home in Hamburg. I dug deep and threw myself into Hamburg, rolled in Hamburg, immersed myself and shed tears and sweat and blood and created a home there. I nourished friendships. I dated the men. I drank the beer. I drank the culture, even when I fought against it. I studied the language, even when it drove me crazy. And in the way only Germany can do, it dug its way into my heart. So not only did I leave a country I learned to care for and a whole wonderful basketful of amazing friends and acquaintances, but also a man I care for.  And so… grief came simultaneously with the joy of seeing old friends and family.

Grief. The most unexpected part of reverse culture shock for me. I didn’t expect it. I expected pure joy for the first while at least. I mean hey… I can order everything in English now! People are friendly (for the most part.) I can see my nieces whenever I want! I can laugh my head off with dear friends who I missed like crazy. I can sit in front of the fire at my parent’s house and eat dinner with them and know I won’t have to say goodbye any time soon. And yet, there is the grief and the loss. The reverse homesickness for a life I worked so hard to build for 18 months. The utter freedom of being abroad and feeling like I could be anyone I wanted to be. A Singaporean student referred to her readjustment back home as “re-caging a freed bird.” It is exactly this feeling even when you return to a place you love. You have to learn to find your freedom in a different way. I’m still working on it, but continuing to do the things you love in whatever capacity you can really helps. Two weeks after I got home I ran a half marathon in Victoria and it gave me a serious boost that I needed desperately.

Culture shock, in any form, can be a dark and lonely
place at times. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Doing the things you love while adjusting or readjusting to a culture will give you the motivation to keep on going. I highly recom- mend it. Here I am on a gorgeous fall day in Victoria after the half marathon.
(Photo by Russell Fuoco)

Who am I now? I’m still working on that one, but my first week or so here I felt utterly lost. I thought I had become a strong, sophisticated and worldly woman with amazing experiences under her belt, but the other day I felt so discouraged and alone that I knocked on my mom’s office door, tears streaming down my face and said, “Mommy, I need a hug.” Oh yes, my sophistication was shining bright in that moment. I suppose we never stop needing our mothers, do we? In any case, I didn’t come home to my old job or a place of my own. I have to depend on people’s generosity and love for me right now and various couches and beds (and I am grateful to them for this). I took a leap of faith coming home at this time, just like I took a massive leap of faith when I moved to Hamburg. I know deep in my heart this all just takes time, that each day will bring a small bit of progress and also that I shouldn’t rush this time since it’s part of my personal growth as well. But, it’s still tough.

One of the perks of being home and not working
full time yet is spending time with precious people
like my nieces!


Recently I talked with my friend’s father about my feelings right now. He has known me since I was 15 years old and has seen the many changes in me and has the advantage of observing me in a slightly more objective way. He noticed right away that I haven’t had a chance to process and that I need a place to go and just be, and think about everything I have experienced this past year and a half. How I have changed. I likened the feeling to having a heavy armful of emotions and experiences and no emotional counter space to put it all down on. I haven’t had more than a few moments to stop and think. So for those coming home… take this time. Find it. Find a place you can just be. Write. Process. Look at pictures. Remember each moment.

I think I need a penguin to carry my experiences
for me. He will become my emotional carrier.

I had a stunning ride over on the ferries my first time back on the island and I was able to just lie on the deck in the sun and relax. And ironically I bumped into a German family who I chatted with for a bit. But this moment in the sun and surrounded by beauty was much needed.

I feel blessed to love two places and so many sets of people so much. It wouldn’t be so hard to come home to my beautiful west coast if I didn’t truly love what I had left behind. And that is the bitter sweet bar of German chocolate that I’m munching on these days. I also have to remember that life in Hamburg was most definitely far from perfect, hence why I am home now. It’s so easy to see a place with rose coloured glasses once you are far away, but no place is perfect. Every place is what you make of it.

It’s interesting because in the past week we’ve had an incredible amount of fog here on the west coast. Like dense fog…the kind you could get lost in for days. It has rolled over this whole area and taken hold. I know it will burn off and some days it does for a while but it keeps coming back. It’s like the weather knows how I’m feeling. There are moments of gorgeous sun, where I am so sure of where I am going, but more moments of fog, and just having to trust in my driving and knowing I will come out just fine on the other side. More than fine.

“There are obvious difficulties in the next transition of returning home. However, once the student has overcome the initial reverse culture shock, new growth, fresh insights and avenues of influence will open up. Like many returnees, they would change the spiritual, economic, political, educational and social landscape of their countries.” (From an article on reverse culture shock from

On a stunning day in downtown Victoria
I walked around and just took in the beauty.
At the moment I feel like I can see myself
in it, but not more as a voyeur just like
my reflection here. Feeling truly at home
again will only come with time and patience.


This is my hope. I want to take all of these enriching experiences that I’ve gained and paint my own country with them, I want each drop of this to ooze into the new life I will build here. I don’t want to lose anything. Including the utterly humbling experience of having to start fresh again in your own home and not quite knowing how that will turn out. I want people to see the differences in me. I was so touched when my brother-in-law stopped me on his way out the door, about a week after I’d been home and said to me, “Kristi, I really think your time away enriched you. Was good for you.” I can’t tell you how good it is to hear these kind of words from family and friends. So, as I continue on this journey I’ll keep writing about the ups and downs, good times and bad. It should be quite the adventure. Stay tuned for more!



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Kristi Fuoco

 KRISTI FUOCO – Social media enthusiast, English teacher, writer, marketer, traveler, music lover. West Coast Canadian gal living and working in Germany and traveling around Europe. Current city – Hamburg.

Twitter: @kristifuoco

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My experience in Germany has been invaluable. In addition to learning German and taking part in another culture, I have learned so much about myself. I am confident that I can thrive away from the comforts of home and that I am dynamic and flexible. This is exactly what today’s employers are looking for – giving me a competitive advantage in the working world.
Kate from British Columbia – working for an international not-for-profit organisation.