Being expat

Reverse Culture Shock (Hélène Rybol)


In her latest book Reverse Culture Shock, Hélène Rybol explains the complexity of feelings we experience when going back to our home country or a country we lived before, after having spent a considerable time living in other cultures.

Hélène describes her repatriation to Europe after living four years in The US.

“I spent four years becoming aware of my “Europeanness” to come back to a Europe that felt alien to me and where people kept and still keep pointing out my “Americanness”.“

This book is a collection of adapted posts from Hélène’s blog where she gives valuable suggestions on how to cope with all the contradictory feelings expats have while going through the different phases of expat life. While feeling “familiar and completely different at the same time”, experiences can be very challenging and alienating. When trying desperately to fit in doesn’t work the way we expect, the whole process feels more “like an implosion”, and it “requires constant adjustment”.

Starting with her own reverse culture shock experience (p.15-22), Hélène lists up the “symptoms and lessons” (p.23-26), and talks about “cultural mirrors” (p.27-30). Feeling out of context can put us out of balance and we need to “nurture our cultural layers” from time to time in order to live in the present and fully embrace the moment.

In the chapter “culture shock and friendships” (p.31-36) she uses the term of “compartimentalizing” to explain how we all have a core identity to which we add layers of other cultural identities during our international life, which makes it so difficult for our friends (and family!) to understand us.

When she explains what “Home” (p.37-41) means to someone who grew up in several cultures and that not “having an un-traditional sense of home” is not at all sad, she speaks the mind of all those who live in many cultures.

The positive way to experience reverse culture shock is nicely described in the chapters “gumption” (p.42-44) – a new word to discover and remember! – and the “effects and challenges of living abroad” (p.46-48).

She dedicates some chapters to the languages we acquire or learn along the way (p.49-69) by explaining what a multilingual bain is (p.58-60), what code-switching is and why it is so common among multilinguals and by answering some of the most common questions multilinguals get asked (p.62-64).

When we move back to a country we lived before we tend to strike a balance of which trip changed us the most (p.75-79), we try to understand how our international journey changed us and make sense of the different phases (cfr. “contextualizing experiences” (p.80-84)). – She ends this “guide for reentry” with giving us “food for thoughts” (p.85-91): a list of questions we can ask ourselves to assess our international journey and to become aware of what this experience brought us.

– This book is a must read for those who repatriate because it helps to focus on how life abroad changes people. I would also warmly recommend this book to friends and families of those who repartiate because moving back is often be more challenging than entering a new country.



Categories: Being expat, Reviews

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