When Culture Shock Meets Reverse Culture Shock

Back home in La Grange, Texas

Two months ago, I wrote a post about what it was like to return home to small-town Texas for two and a half months after living in Madrid, Spain for a year. I’d been through reverse culture shock once before and imagined that would prepare me to face it again. I was sorely mistaken.

There’s a specific kind of uncomfortable that you feel when everyone around you expects you to come home and just “get it.” I didn’t. I had grown accustomed to a different way of life – one that had, at the start, felt very strange to me. But at the time I went home, strange felt normal and normal felt strange. It felt like I had all my wires crossed.

Over the course of my long summer at home, I eventually fell into a pattern. I reconnected with old friends, spent time with family, and had a meaningful summer job. All of these experiences helped me adjust and feel comfortable back home again. And then, it was time to return to Spain.

Returning to life as an expat isn’t something I have experience with. In the past, I’ve moved abroad and then moved back to the U.S. and left it there. When I boarded my plane back to Madrid on September 31, I had no idea what returning to Spain would be like. I knew I wouldn’t feel culture shock like I had when I first moved there, but that was about all I knew.

What I ended up feeling was almost a strange combination of culture shock and reverse culture shock. I simultaneously felt out of place and like I couldn’t remember things that I should have known how to do.

I am an American in Spain. So I felt out of place in some usual ways – physically, linguistically, and culturally. And simultaneously, I felt like an American in Spain who had lived here for a year already but couldn’t quite get a hold of how to be here again. I remembered pockets of the language I’d used all last year, some of how to navigate my life in this foreign country, and how to work my job as a North American Language and Culture Assistant at my primary school in the mountains. But putting all the pieces together to make a life was difficult at the start.

Hiking on a recent trip to A Coruña, Spain


Now that a few weeks have passed, I am feeling back at home here, too. What I’ve realized is how important a pattern is to readjusting – no matter where in the world you are. Your work, your daily routines, and your friendships will keep you grounded while you figure out the rest.

by Emma Schultz