Going home after a long time away: Dealing with Reverse Culture Shock


Nothing prepares you for returning to your home country nearly four years after you last visited and fourteen years since you last lived there.

In 2000 I took a year’s sabbatical from my dull job in London, left the country and I never went back.  I sometimes wonder if they are still holding my job open for me.

I’d been threatening to leave the UK for years; the final straw came one September when I was sat in a pointless meeting looking out at what you just knew was going to be the last sunny day for months, whilst everyone around me conspired to keep the meeting going on and on so that they could get an extra hour’s pay.

I’d like to report that at this point I stood up, said in a loud voice ‘this job is a pitiful waste of my time and talents and I’m off to seek fame and fortune overseas’ and walked out.  But I didn’t.  I went home, had a few glasses of wine, complained to anyone who would listen and then finally I took a year’s sabbatical from the job.

My first ex-pat home: the South of Spain.  Certainly an easier one to start with.

My first ex-pat home: the South of Spain. Certainly an easier one to start with.

So I really hadn’t prepared myself for the reverse culture shock thing at all; in fact, I didn’t even believe it was a real thing.

Being back in the UK 14 years after I left

The first thing I noticed was the British love of queuing.  After many years in Asia I had forgotten the need to queue.  A few days after I arrived I went to wait for a bus.  Everyone was stood around randomly, some were sat on a nearby wall.  When the bus arrived they all arranged themselves in order; truly, it was a joy to observe.  Except I forgot and so headed straight to the front and got on the bus, whilst a chorus of tuts echoed behind me.  Lesson learned; remember to queue.

Anyway, here is my somewhat haphazard list of advice for anyone returning to their home after a long time overseas.

  •  Try to live a different life to the one you were leading before, so that you’re not returning to your old life but moving on to a new one. I had been living in North London but moved back to South of the Thames (the Londoners amongst you will know how infrequently people change their side of the Thames; sides are chosen early on, probably by birth, and rarely is the river crossed).
  1. View from my South London home

    View from my South London home

  • Take up a new hobby (or a new job), so that you then associate your old surroundings with new beginnings, plus you get to meet lots of new people.

One of my ‘new hobbies’, hanging out with my pink ukulele.

  • Seek out other returned expats to spend time with, although this is often easier said than done. There doesn’t seem to be a huge community of returned expats in England, or if there is they’re not declaring themselves.  On the same theme don’t bother telling anyone that you have been working/living overseas.  They won’t understand and will actually be quite jealous.  They will say things like ‘I’ve always wanted to go to Thailand/Spain/Indonesia but I can’t afford it’ when what they actually mean is ‘I spend all my money on beer and cigarettes and am actually not that bothered.  However I do fancy lying on a beach and drinking cheap beer for a few weeks and I’m annoyed that’s what you’ve been doing for ten years’.
  • Don’t feel that you have to be like everyone else, just because you’re back living amongst them. England certainly has more room for people who are a little different now and it’s ok to have nothing in common with other people.

South China, my next ex-pat country

If all this fails, do what I’m doing and buy yet another long-distance plane ticket to another place and start the ex-pat life all over again.

  • Last and certainly not least, Thailand

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