Reverse Culture Shock

Last Thursday I arrived back in the green and pleasant land I call home on my private Fokker 50 turboprop plane weary from the flight and the previous four hours spent stuck in Schiphol airport. Nevertheless, it was good to be back on British soil and as my driver pulled up on the runway tarmac to greet us I reflected on how much I had personally changed in the past year since leaving the UK. It was fast becoming clear that you don’t realise what you’ve got until you lose it…

Overgrown Tavern

Back on my country estate I had a dull feeling like something was missing and after about half an hour of wandering around aimlessly it hit me: where had all the people gone? No longer was I surrounded by crowds giving me dodgy looks or asking why I was there and I felt strangely lost. Later on, I had another revelation when I realised the only sounds I could hear were that of birds singing in the trees and my own breathing: was I in the mythical garden of Eden?


These strange occurrences continued throughout the day but it wasn’t until I was meandering down the river in the family yacht that it suddenly hit home: I was no longer in China and didn’t have to battle my way through millions of cars honking their horns or people spitting on the street or children emptying their bladders in the gutter or breathing noxious fumes emitted by factories or… my mind imploded. What hell was this I had been transported to?!

Golden Grass

Joking aside it’s nice to be home and as the saying goes “the grass is always greener on the other side” (or in this case a shade of golden yellow) but going from an urban city like Shenzhen (15 million people) to a rural city like Norwich (200 thousand people) highlights just how diverse a world we live in. The two mindsets required to exist in either are almost completely different but somehow mine has to span both and I was in for a bit of a shock coming back to it – whilst nothing had changed much on the ground I most definitely had.


Trying to explain it is a little difficult and perhaps the shock will lessen over time but a part of me now exists in a parallel world, 6000 miles away, which another small part of me is already looking forward to returning to. The UK will always be my home but I think my perspective has changed to somewhat of an outsider yet hope I’ll never be a stranger here. Rule, Britannia!

David avatar

7 responses

  1. i’ve experienced this so many times — four countries. you don’t get it by just visiting… you have to live long-term in a place to sense the disconnect.

  2. Yeah it’s a most strange feeling being back somewhere after an extended time away but I can’t really complain coming home to somewhere like this!

  3. Tom F avatar
    Tom F

    Norwish looks idyllic 🙂

  4. It’s really strange going from Shenzhen to somewhere with less hustle and bustle. Have fun and enjoy the break!

  5. Beverley avatar

    I empathise completely with your observations above having just returned to my rural home in Cumbria after three years working in Singapore. I too feel like I am living in a parallel universe. This was heightened even further when one of my Singapore colleagues sent me an email saying she had gone into work over the hols looked at my desk and felt like I was still there. I wrote back a rather jokey response saying I didn’t have time to clear my desk properly before catching the plane home. It was a rather rushed departure. But I knew what she meant really and I do feel like there is another me over there.

    I worked for the Ministry of Education in SIngapore in a college where I was the only expat teacher. It took me some time to adjust but when I did – I felt totally taken in. My husband never found work and became a house husband for 3 years taking care of our 2 year old daughter. It’s not how we’d planned things to be but it was the only way we could make things work.

    At the end of our three year adventure, despite the difficulties, I feel I gained enormously and my daughter now 5 adjusted extremely well. She still talks a lot about her Singaporean friends.
    I really loved our home in Cumbria which we rented out while we were away. We have a wonderful network of friends here. But my feelings are not what I expected them to be on returning home. I’m actually wondering if I can settle back into this way of life. I’m even a bit frustrated to be feeling this way – it’s like by going abroad I’ve been robbed of my love of my home. I’m sure this is just a passing phase and at some point it will all start to feel normal again. At the end of the day we live in a beautiful part of the world, have great friends and once either myself or husband finds work the uncertainty will fade. Interestingly my five year old daughter is adjusting brilliantly. Hope you don’t mind me sharing these thoughts with you – it’s just I too feel like I’m going a bit crazy.

  6. Hi Beverly, thanks for your comment and sharing your fascinating insights about your experiences. You’re very brave to have done what you did with a small child like that but sounds like it’s an experience she’ll never forget.

    I think a big part of the experience of returning home is that you expect it to be like how you left it but in reality people and places have changed which can leave you feeling very out of place. Like you say I guess time is the only thing which can heal this.

    I hope everything goes well as you adjust back to life in Cumbria. I’m sure I’ll be going through the same thing in a few years if/when I return to the UK.

  7. ive had that feeling many times. third of a year since my last visit to china and i still feel like i need to get back home, only, i am home!
    strange it is to not here the throat clearing before the spitting, not hearing the honking horns, not having my favorite ice tea brands in the shops, not eating baozi every afternoon, not being stared at, and having unlimited access to internet sites like facebook all still sometimes feel…alien?
    china has so many things both good and bad, and i guess thats why it feels like i left home, because its like my home, full of problems, but nice in so many ways. my outlook sometimes feels like its just all contradictions, but i guess that is life.


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