It’s almost comical how much you forget when you leave your home country for an extended time. Upon re-entry the effects of reverse culture shock are just that… a shock!
Re-entry for us equates to adjusting to the warp-speed pace of life, the over pricing of even the simplest items, the whizzing by of cars and people, and returning to our home country at a time when political and social upheaval leaves us feeling unbalanced at best. Add in the cost of renting an apartment and the cost of groceries, and it all makes my brain hurt. Reverse culture shock. It’s a real thing!
It’s All Relative
While living in Porto for 3 months, October through December 2017, we paid 600€ per month, plus utilities, for a one-room furnished flat. The utilities were 80€ per month and included WiFi. The owner originally planned to put the studio on AirBnB but decided it was too much work, so she rented it to us for the three months. We consider ourselves extremely fortunate to have found the flat and it was seriously a case of the perfect moment in time when we connected with the manager, of the apartment, on Facebook. It was bittersweet to give it up.
I should mention that while we thought 600€ per month for the flat was super reasonable, by local standards it was on the high end, so it’s all relative. In many ways the expat life abroad is more affordable than life at home. It depends on where you are and your chosen lifestyle. For us, living in Porto was a wonderful learning experience and while it was always our plan to return to live in the United States, we do hope to spend more time in Portugal and put those residency permits to good use.
Now back in the United States, we’re paying $2,200 per month for rent (for a 1-bedroom furnished apartment) including utilities (except WiFi) and parking. While definitely a case for reverse culture shock, the cost of rent actually came as no surprise to us because we previously lived in this area. But still. Ouch! And, we’re paying $290 per month for our storage garage which housed our car while we were in Europe for six months and still holds everything we own. Not wanting to move everything twice, we continue to house our belongings in storage until we find and settle in to a home.
From the Ordinary to the Extraordinary and Back Again
Here’s the thing about long-term travel. When you leave, you’re the one(s) doing the leaving, the adventuring, the traveling and you’re the one(s) experiencing the challenges, the out-of-the-ordinary if you will. Meanwhile, life at home – and the lives of those you love – moves forward. It’s the traveler who goes out and explores the extraordinary and then has to step back in to the ordinary. And, while you just want to bask in the glory of what you just experienced, you need to move forward or get left behind. It’s all a bit surreal, this thing known as reverse culture shock.
The best antidote – in our opinion – for reverse culture shock is to have something BIG to do right away. If you just re-enter with nothing lined up – such as we did in 2015 – you may find yourself twiddling your thumbs and itching to book yourself on the next flight out of town heading right back to where you came from. Believe me, it’s very much a syndrome of re-entry and reverse culture shock; the strong desire to escape reality.
With all that being said, being home again is a good thing! Dorothy said it best, “There’s no place like home.” Once the initial shock wears off and you begin to pick up where you left off, life moves forward. But, it’s also okay if you immediately start dreaming of the next adventure. Because that’s what life is all about, a series of adventures.
Speaking of the next adventure… it’s that time of year again. Another birthday. I skipped my 60th birthday. The men in my life were both ill and truthfully, the thought of entering my sixth decade kinda made me ill, so I just let it pass by without fanfare. Now, here it is two years later and I’m facing my sixth decade plus two years. I don’t know how I got here so quickly, but I have to admit being 62-years-young is not so bad. I’ve even fully embraced my gray hair and often wonder why I waited so long to do so.
In my sixth decade I’ve become somewhat of an activist, making my voice heard. Not that I’ve ever been shy about making my voice heard – just ask anyone who knows me well – but this is a new purpose and a new challenge, speaking up for what I believe to be important.
And, in my sixth decade I’m going to celebrate my (our) 40th anniversary. Forty years of traveling through life together and we’ll soon be grandma and grandpa. This circle of life thing kinda blows my mind.
p.s. Abi just reminded me that I’m actually in my seventh decade. I’m not feeling it.
Happy Birthday and Anniversary! Yes, I totally agree, reverse culture shock is definitely a thing! I always struggle with the ridiculous amount of food waste and gluttony in the UK when I go back to visit, as well as the high living costs. Wow though, that is a crazy amount for rent! We really loved visiting you at your beautiful Porto apartment, it was an absolute bargain, especially for the location. I hope we can find somewhere half as good when we eventually set up camp in Portugal (if Brexit doesn’t ruin our plans…). Have fun adjusting to this next phase 🙂
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You must definitely feel the shock each time you return to the UK! I’m sure there are similarities between the UK and the US! Let me know when you return to Porto, maybe you can contact our former landlord! How fun would that be if you got our apartment?! 🙂
Besides the cost (Ouch!) we found it a bit depressing coming back to Canada after a couple of years of full-time travel. We only had to be back for a few months but walking the streets where we had lived 20+ years brought back a lot of memories, some good, some bad. But either way it felt heavy…and reminded us why going backwards instead of forwards is difficult. Imagine after a couple of years of full-time travel having to go back to a 9-5 job? Come “home” was a bit like that. Not all bad but definitely bittersweet…
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Totally get it, Frank. It was bittersweet for us as well to return ahead of the game plan, but we’re not looking at it has backtracking, rather we see it as a parallel chapter, like a fork in the road and we’ll pick up where left off down the road a bit. 🙂
I can related to your comments Patti about reverse culture shock, even though we have been living predominantly in our homeland of Australia. For the past 14 months we have been living an extra ordinary life of continual travel. Recently we visited what was our hometown, to visit family and friends. In some ways things had moved on, yet (for us) it was like trying to fit (even briefly) back into the ordinary. Yes we may have wanted to bask in all we had seen and done, but for those in our hometown life simply goes on. While people may ask where have you been and what have you done, very quickly things return to the immediate here and now. I am not critical of may family and friends, it is simply the reality. And for us, it is the reality that we are not ready to settle for the ordinary. For us, at this point in time, we are keen to continue our travel adventures and explore the extra ordinary. Thank you for sharing this post, as it is so good to know we are not alone in this reverse culture shock type experience.
You are definitely not alone in your thinking, Estelle, it happens to everyone. I think any time we step away for the norms of daily life, we step in to the extraordinary on some level, so stepping back is always a bit of shock. But, it’s always worth it! 🙂
Hi Patti, Yes, reverse culture shock. I came back for the holidays and to take care of loose ends for a couple months. I moan and groan every time I buy groceries. Why does it cost $5 for 3 portobello mushrooms here, yet in Wales only 1.50. I’d leave Ldls grocery store with 2 sacks for less than 20 and here it’s $90. My kids finally told me to stop, saying it was depressing how much they now know how much Americans are overpaying. I chocked when I read your now rent, compared to Porto rent (I’m in Idaho, I don’t know if there’s a house payment that big in this state lol). Your rent in Porto was still a couple hundred more than I’ve been averaging for an apt, but being a solo traveler, I usually rent only a room.
Happy Birthday 🙂
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The rental market rates are indeed staggering here, Paula. But it is a pricey area in general as we are just outside of Washington, DC. What we pay for rent each month will surpass a mortgage payment, it’s crazy backwards. And, I hear you on the groceries. We paid $87 the other day for groceries – at a local not expensive grocery chain – and I looked at Abi and said, “What the hell added up to $87?!” But, again, it’s all relative to where you are in the country.
One of the lessons learned having been out of the country for 6 months is that we’re bringing home the mindset. At this stage of life we want a small foot print of living space and consumerism.
As another comment said, we are all in culture shock…the problem being that we have had so much change in the last year, we are getting immune to it. Not a good thing. So we are very glad you are back and joining in the fight. I do remember coming home from a year in England (long ago) and being overwhelmed by the speed and loudness of everything. I had been driving on the other side of the road for a year too. That took a bit of re-adjusting.
It’s funny… Porto is a very active city with lots of people/cars coming and going but it still feels very different than the warp speed here in the US. But, in all fairness we currently live in a uber busy locale just outside of Washington, DC, so it’s not like we came home to the country life. 🙂
The best thing about turning 62 was my Social Security check!! You have my sincere admiration for embracing gray hair. I just cut about 5 inches off the length of mine, which is the first step in that direction; can’t quite go all the way.
I’m sure that the anticipation of a grandchild will ease the pain of re-entry and keep those wandering feet settled for a while. Be well.
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Oh yes! I applied and I’m expecting my first check next month. Woot!
Walking the Camino gave me the courage to embrace the gray. We traveled for 3 months on that European tour and by the time we finished walking the Camino (35 days) and being outside in the elements every single day, my hair was like straw and of course the roots were gray. While in Porto (after our Camino) I got a hair cut and right then and there was when I said, screw it. Embrace the gray. I’ve never had a moment of regret.
I know what you mean about hitting the big 60, Patti! I was in such a funk that I turned down dinner invites and spent the day editing photos and writing a blog post. And it sounds even worse when you think of entering your seventh decade!
We’ve been gone from the US now for 5 years and each return brings reverse culture shock with it. You’ve commented on the speeded up pace-of-life and I’m always blown away by how BIG everything is (cars, refrigerators, houses, people) and how difficult and stressful shopping is with the sheer number of choices. We skipped going back last year (I just couldn’t face the political upheaval and staying with family who support #45) and are hoping our son and grandson can make a visit across the ocean this year so we can skip it again!
Enjoy creating another chapter in life’s adventure and we’ll keep a warm place in our hearts (and a guestroom) for your return to the land of figs and cheap wine!
Please do keep the candle in the window, we will be back!
And, yes, totally understand the BIG factor here in the US. We’re diligently working to keep our life on a smaller scale in this chapter. We’ve done big and have no interest in returning to it.
Since the last presidential election, a majority of the country has reverse culture shock everyday, so you’re in excellent company. Welcome “home”. We’re leaving for a 3 week trip to South America very soon. I’ll be returning to Bogotá, Colombia for the first time in 43 years. I was last there as a 20 year old college student in 1974. Just being able to say I did something 43 years ago makes me feel old-ish.
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Although it’s been a bit bumpy re-entering, I think being away from the US has definitely made a difference in coping with the current political and social upheaval. That’s not to say we could fully escape while in Europe, because if you have a vested interest in the country, you still tune in but it’s on a more limited basis. I’ve brought home that limited basis and plan to hold on to it as long as I can. I’m volunteering my time while tuning out the noise. I’ll let you know how long I can hold out.
lol how nice of him to remind you that you’re in your 7th decade:) No dinner for him! Oh, the joy (not) of reverse culture shock!!! I hate it every time. Have a wonderful birthday and an exciting time with the new arrival on the way and then, who knows, you may be jetting off once again to a new adventure!
Ha! Yeah, didn’t need to be reminded about the seventh, not the sixth, decade. 😉
I know you’ll understand that I’m already penciling in dates on the calendar!
A very happy birthday to you! I so dnjoyed reading this post because I can SO relate to the culture shock of living outside the U.S and going back. Even for short periods of time. But none more challenging than when we returned for an extended period to Chicago a while back so as to have time (6 months became 18 months) with my elderly oarents and our sons. We had been living out the country for about 8 years and man oh man it hit us hard. You might enjoy reading our post…. Of course with not too much time, one adjusts. Although right now with the pokitical situation what it is, I can definitely see how that would make it all WAY more challening. It was stressful for us for that reason, even just to visit last year. The tension, the depression, the stress….
You look wonderful and happy and being there for your grandchild’s birth will be a wonderful gift that will make up for everything else!
Thank you for the birthday wishes, Peta. And, thanks for sharing your post. It really is somewhat jarring to return to the US and all that it entails. It’s not all bad though, there’s always Trader Joe’s! 🙂 Would love to visit your part of the world one day and see your home, I look forward to continuing to follow your journey.