You know you are in reverse culture shock when….

by mendibpng


  • your mad skills at things like dehydrating food, booking plane tickets, and malaria prevention are no longer needed. All of a sudden you need a whole new skill set (and believe me, mine were rusty!)
  • a simple task like mailing a package is daunting (Me, “Where is the PO? Where do I park? Oh, I have to take a stub to be next in line? What if she calls the number and I don’t hear her?”)
  • the GPS tells you to turn right, you do, and realize you are going the wrong way on a ONE WAY street when someone honks loudly at you…
  • you forget how cold it is outside and walk out with a t-shirt and flip flops.
  • you feel incredibly grateful when someone in a grocery store talks to you kindly because it happens so rarely.
  • you forget names, drop things, spill drinks and generally are hyper-alert because of all the things going on in your head all at once.
  • you program your phone number into your cell phone because your mind still blanks even after several months.
  • you find yourself reading price labels out loud at the grocery store because there are so many options and you are overwhelmed.
  • you (or your spouse) have been looking forward to doing something culturally American but your children aren’t really keen on the activity…do you go ahead with it and hope they come around, or scrap it??
  • it surprises you that cars stop for you to cross the street, so you run a little.
  • you are still converting things to the currency where you live overseas whenever you go out shopping.
  • some habits stick with you like, you lock your door during the day and check it multiple times at night to make sure it’s locked.
  • you successfully order pizza using your coupon and (hopefully) didn’t sound like a crazy person.
  • you speak English but you feel like you are speaking a different language than everyone else. (My language now includes cultural idioms from my British and Australian colleagues and also from PNG.) We coached the children, “don’t say where is the toilet?” We say, “where is the restroom?” here.

Some of the things listed above made me laugh, and some to be honest made me cry. In reality, any small thing can trigger great anxiety or emotion because I am still trying to adjust. This week while talking to a friend, I described what I’m experiencing as similar to chronic illness (in that it’s invisible). A friend of mine struggles with a chronic illness, and you would never know it unless you knew her well. She suffers daily (hourly!) but bravely lives with a valor that I’ve never seen in another human being. Anyway, I am sure I do not carry myself as well as she does, but to look at me, it is probably not evident to most people that I am struggling under the surface. Cumulative stress from living overseas has taken its toll on our marriage and family (that is a good reason to have a furlough, right?) And yet, I have five kids to care for daily, so I try not to ‘wear’ these things on my sleeve every day. Plus when my kids are having a hard time with reverse-culture shock, it is really hard for them to see their mom falling apart.

On top of that, there’s a delicate balance between being totally honest with people (who may find it shocking to know the truth, or who really don’t want to know!) or veering into self pity (even if I’m not feeling self pity, I don’t want to be perceived as such!) Anyway, my closest friends are gracious to accept me for who I am, do not judge or try to ‘fix’ me. They laugh with me over funny things that happen and cry with me when things get rough.

After five months of being here, I’m starting to feel like I’m coming out of the fog, and even have had some experiences where I haven’t felt completely out of it (yay!) I’m really thankful for the time we have here, and for the chance to adjust in our own time frame. We are also enjoying so many things about being home, that it is definitely worth the effort of readjusting.


8 Comments to “You know you are in reverse culture shock when….”

  1. I loved your post – never thought of it like that. However I will be doing that in reverse next March as I come to Ukarumpa for 6 months on a reverse furlough.

    • hi Joe! Yes, you’ll likely find that you’ll have to adjust back to many different things when you arrive back. Six months is substantial enough for you to have a significant adjustment when coming back here, I suspect.

  2. Thanks for this honest glimpse into your experience! I would love to see you while you are here! Beth

  3. Hello dears, First of all…..who took the world class photo? It is enthralling/captivating! Second….I wish I had been able to articulate, even to Aunt Cherie, what you are expressing so well, Mandy. People just labeled me “dependent” and really had no idea how awkward it feels to be in such a different place, language, and culture. Thank the dear Lord for people who do accept us as we are, and approach our flailing about with mercy and grace. Last comment….it’s my own one little opinion that you should go ahead and have the kids enter in to the culturally appropriate things here. It may seem like something oddly futile to them at the time, but it builds investment in the bank of being American, and ultimately coming home to America for college; successfully fitting in. There are language and cultural nuances you only pick up by being in the middle of something. (not just reading about it, or hearing it from your parents.) Sending all our love, Oma and PapPap

  4. Thanks. I can relate to this.

    Julie Swanson

  5. Well said. Well said. Well said. “My closest friends are gracious to accept me for who I am, do not judge or try to ‘fix’ me. They laugh with me over funny things that happen and cry with me when things get rough.” Those are good friends. Thanks for writing this.

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