“We Can’t Live Freely In Its Current Inhospitable State": People Who Have Lived Abroad Are Sharing Their Experiences With Reverse Culture Shock When They Finally Returned Home

I can only imagine how difficult it can be to live abroad for years or even months before returning home. I'm sure it could feel like you have to reacclimate yourself to a "foreign" country all over again.

Amy Poehler saying, "Where am I"

So I asked the people of the BuzzFeed Community, "If you've ever lived abroad for a long period of time, what was your experience like, and what kind of reverse culture shock did you experience upon returning home?" And here's what they had to say:

1."I've been an expat for ten years, and I've been fortunate enough to live and work in several countries. After so long abroad, I find it easier to adapt to a new place than to re-adapt to society back home. No running water? No problem. No electricity? No problem. A five-hour bus ride takes ten hours? I can handle it. But talking to people back home can be the most challenging."

Tom Hanks saying, "oh man, oh man that's tough"

2."I’m Czech, but I’ve been living in the UK and then in the US for the past nine years. The biggest shock whenever I go back is how little things have changed. Czechs are remarkably resistant to change and will watch any new project or building with deep suspicion. The same grocery store I used to go to 20 years ago is still standing, and most of the family homes still look the same. Americans have no problem completely changing the face of the town in a few months if they think that's what needs to be done."


3."I was raised in a small town in South Texas and went to college a few hours away from home. Directly after, I went to South Korea and only planned to stay for a year. Nine years later, I finally came back home to the United States. I vaguely knew of the issues people in the US were facing. Jobs, housing, healthcare, crime."

A woman saying, "I'll make a list"

4."I was no longer sticking out like a sore thumb. Being a tall POC who grew up poor, it was hard to find anyone who had a similar upbringing or could understand my point of view when traveling. Most of the expats I met grew up middle-class and didn't have to deal with racism."

"Living in Asia or Europe I would get followed around in stores, be stared at constantly, or see people trying to secretly take pictures of me. Being back in America, it took a while for me to let my guard down again. I find clothes in my size; nobody gives me a second look, and I just fit in. I definitely let out a sigh of relief when I went to my local grocery store and saw nobody following me around."


5."I lived in Central and Latin America for years as an expat. When I returned home to the UK, everything was sooo expensive, especially food and fresh fruit. For what I pay in the UK for a bottle of water, I could get a full meal in Colombia."

Kate Mckinnon on SNL saying, "that's ridiculous are you serious?"

6."I lived in the Middle East for eight years, but not the Dubai-type Middle East. Driving was illegal when I first arrived, and I had to cover up. The female form didn't exist there at all, and I needed permission from a man to do anything (open a bank account, etc.). When I returned, I couldn't get over the freedom of being able to open the door and just walk outside. No one stared at me, no religious police followed me, I could go out in shorts and a vest, and no one batted an eye."

"It's been a couple of years since I got back, and I'm still adjusting. I've been dealing with a myriad of emotions. Most of my confidence has gone, and it's had a huge impact on my sense of self, so much so that I started writing to process some of the confused feelings, which has since turned into a PhD thesis. I'm determined to turn the negative experience into a positive."


7."The bathrooms were a nasty shock. In Japan, the truck stop bathrooms have automatic toilet seats, the doors go to the floor, and they’re all clean. In the States, the floors are wet, the doors are rusty, and the gaps are huge."

A woman saying, "yeah, it's been a struggle-bus!"

8."I lived in Germany for almost 15 years. My then-wife was German, and we have three kids together. I now live in the United States, and my three children chose to stay in Germany. I have since remarried, and we have a child together. It is definitely a hard experience and a culture shock in both directions."

"Living in Germany was an awesome experience that I would not change for the world, but being an American in a foreign country, I never felt as though I fit in, and there was always a longing to be in my own country. I would recommend to anyone that they travel when they can to experience how others live and deal with day-to-day problems, but think twice before settling down somewhere else because that longing to be home seems to never go away."


9."I lived in Japan for three years with my family. It was hands-down the greatest experience of my life to date. We tried so hard to stay longer, but alas... We knew coming back to the States was going to be hard, but nothing could prepare us for reintegrating during the height of COVID in 2020."

man rubbing his face in distress

10."It wasn't even that long, but it still shocked me. I spent four months in New York City. Coming home late after a play, using the subway after midnight, walking alone at night — those were things I did daily, and I always felt safe. Then I went back home to Buenos Aires and realized that all of those things made me really scared here, and it sucks."


11."When we got back from three years in Japan, every American building — houses, stores, you name it — looked HUGE to me. I was happier about how cheap food is in the US, though, especially fruit. We live on the West Coast now, so there are always piles of gorgeous apples in the fall, citrus in the winter, tropical fruits in the spring, and stone fruit and berries in the summer, and it costs next to nothing."

Ilana Glazer on "Broad City", intensely sniffing a tomato

12."I was a very young kid living in England, right at the age of starting school. I had to relearn how to spell certain words upon returning to the States. 'Favourite colour' became 'favorite color,' and all that jazz."

"Also, the difference between British Smarties and US Smarties was a shock. I still remember one of the first times I got American Smarties back in the States. I looked at the sugary candy labeled 'Smarties' and had the kid version of the thought, 'WTF is this?'"


13."I studied abroad in Wales and Japan in college, and I really struggled when I returned home both times, particularly when I returned from Wales. This was ten years ago, and nearly everyone around me didn't understand how I felt. I went to this country and felt amazing. I had the time of my life and met people I really cared about."

Two women telling someone, "your feelings are valid"

14."I studied abroad for two semesters at the University of Guadalajara in the late 1990s. They had a great bus system, which I learned quickly. I was able to get anywhere at any time in the city and its outskirts. If I missed a bus, I knew another one would be coming in five to ten minutes."

"I didn't realize how stress-free it was not having to drive until I came back to Colorado. I did not want to deal with the stress of traffic jams. Busses run about once per hour, maybe every 45 minutes. So if you miss it, you are screwed. I had to drive to the bus stop to even take the bus. Over 20 years later, we have a lightrail, but that works only if you live downtown. Otherwise, you have to drive to the light rail to take it to where you need to go."


15."This is actually such a small thing in comparison to the overwhelming emotion it felt to return home, but I wasn't expecting to have a difference in language returning home because most of my travels had been spent with other English speakers. I didn't realize I picked up a lot of my British friends' tendencies, and they came out when I returned to the United States. Specifically, the word c*nt entered my vocabulary."

Michelle Visage saying, "I love this for you"

16."I moved to the United States from Serbia when I was 19 for college and ended up staying and becoming a citizen. I am 31 now, and when I go back home, I find it hard to understand the humor. People in Europe make jokes about people’s bodies or sexual orientation in a way I never heard in the US, at least not so openly."

"My friends and family back home will usually comment on changes in my appearance as a greeting, and usually in a way they think is humorous. A lot of the humor is also just plain cruel or offensive. I think people forget Europe is just as racist and misogynistic as the US."


And finally, this person beautifully summed up why going back home can seem so foreign:

17."The culture you left is frozen in that time, so the culture you come back to — prices, products, popular slang, advertisements, etc. — is different from what you perceive your culture to be, and the home you come from doesn’t exist in that way anymore. So there really isn’t any 'going home' when you visit, which makes your new culture feel all the more familiar and homelike."

A Black mother, son, and father standing outside of the airport while the words "it feels really good to be home" are across the screen

Have you lived abroad for a long period of time and want to share your experience of returning home? Feel free to tell your story in the comments!

Note: Submissions have been edited for length and/or clarity.