Culture Shock and Reverse Culture Shock

Culture shock is the shock of moving to a foreign country in a long period.

Or : a sense of confusion and uncertainty sometimes with feelings of anxiety that may affect people exposed to an alien culture or environment without adequate preparation

Reverse Culture Shock:

The shock suffered by some people when they return home after a number of years overseas. This can result in unexpected difficulty in readjusting to the culture and values of the home country, now that the previously familiar has become unfamiliar.

I have experienced both culture shock and reverse culture shock due to living overseas for almost 6 years. And to be honest, for me experiencing Reverse Culture Shock is worse than culture shock itself.

In June 2004, I started a new life in Singapore, from tourist visa to student visa and explored Singapore alone, without any friends I knew in this tiny country. I felt so lonely of course, I was in a new environment but so far I never get problem with being alone. Then I started making friend with new friends from local and other countries.

At first, everything was fine until my fifth months/ half year in Singapore, I got so bored and being totally homesick. The latter I knew, it was a phase I entered my Culture Shock moments. Because all my attitude show the Symptoms of Culture Shock.

At that time, I couldn’t stop comparing between Indonesia and Singapore, being more subjective to this country and arrogantly claimed Indonesia is the best, how boring this country after my 5 months had passed, how I missed Indonesian jokes and relax lifestyle, I became more patriotic than ever, I changed my ring tone to one of Indonesia’s National song, I became so judgmental to this country, I stereotyped how Singaporeans are, all of these attitude is part of Culture Shock.

It’s normal for those who live in foreign country in a long period of time, and after I observed from social network, some of my friends who living abroad, showing such attitude. When I read their status towards host country, becoming grumpy and more blind nationalist, it brings me to my old experiences. And I think Culture shock can be happen even though we have been staying for 4 or 5 years in host country. Probably, it depends on your social life and personality.

I could cope with my culture shock and became more normal after I became so busy with my school projects, more friends from several countries and listened to Radio Power98 FM accompanied my days.

Apparently, It is not really hard to deal with Culture Shock moments in a foreign country than culture shock when I returned home.

To cope with Culture Shock in a foreign country,such as:

  1. Integrating with local, understanding local language, i.e singlish, it makes me feel being like them, not foreigner.
  2. Keep an open mind, making friend with different nationality friends not only with Indonesian community
  3. Go clubbing. We need different social life.
  4. Stop comparing. Just observing and studying closely.
  5. Stop whining.
  6. Every country has plus and minus, skip the minus side, focus on the plus side.

In January 2010, I returned to my home country and at these days I truly realized, coming back to your country after leaving your country in a number of years would  affect your emotional less or more. It depends on how much you integrated to foreign country you stay.

Okay, I can say I experienced  culture shock in Singapore for around 3 or 4 months, but when I came back to Indonesia, a country where I was born and grew up, Hmmmmm…. I think it will take me for the whole my life to readjust this lifestyle again. I am still in Reverse Culture Shock condition up to now. For example;

1. When I left for Singapore, I was still quite young, but when I came back to my home country, my marriage’s plan is everyone’s business. I still never understand and so many times I told people who asked me such question, I answered ‘ hello, Do you realize, you entered my private life and I don’t like that’

Then normally they will reply: ‘because we care about you’

OMG, these traditions are sick!!! I BELONG TO MYSELF NEITHER ANY CULTURE NOR TRADITION!! So, it’s my right to decide whether I ‘d like to get married or not.

In Indonesia, majority of people’s mindset, if you don’t get married at certain ages, they might think you’re unlucky, nobody wants you, it’s like you’re such a pathetic lonely girl in the world. Being quite long in Singapore, I forgot how to act fake as most Indonesian girls in replying this question, so, in Indonesia, if your relatives or friends asking you this question, you should answer it like this way: ‘ Insyaallah, in the near time, I hope your prayer’

FOR GOD’S SAKE, I don’t understand this BASA BASI or these fakes. What’s the point you reply like that?? I don’t need you pray for me for this thing. I’m definitely sure they won’t waste of time in their prayings to ask this to god. It’s just for their gossip stuff. I can’t stand with this stupid gossip culture anymore, but no choice. I wanted to scream HOW I REALLY MISS SINGAPORE!!!!!!!!!!!

I got self-pressured at work in Singapore, but in Indonesia I got this ridiculous peer-pressured, if there’s an option between self-pressured or peer-pressure, I prefer the first one.

2. Religion, people take religions dead serious. It’s so lame and boring. It’s like very important to show people or  toward your society how religious you are, how good you are in embracing what so called the eastern value. How arrogant we are in claiming eastern value is the right one!!! And blaming at the western value for all degradation moral we have got so far.

I got the conclusion from the infotainment (Celebrity news), the news and Sinetron (Soap opera), how our celebrities and politicians are quite hypocrite or too hypocrite even more.

3. Very poor public transportation.

4. In Jakarta or big cities in Indonesia, you will see young moms with their babies and nannies wear uniform hang out in the mall.  (it’s like in Nanny’s movies) See, how nice being a rich young mom in this city, It’s quite rare to see this kind of images in Singapore. Before the government applied the baby bonus policy, almost no babies or infant in Singapore. People are busy with their career because life is full of high competition.

5. I used to walk in a fast speed, when I’m in the mall here, I got so frustrated when I have to wait people in front of me walk quite slow like snail. I think people walk in fast speed only in the train station in Jakarta. I tried to withdraw any conclusion, what makes in Indonesia, we walk so slow compared to other countries in the world. I studied closely, in Holland people walk quite fast as in Singapore.

Until I got my final conclusion, probably in Holland, Singapore or any developed countries in the world, they are used to proper public transportation based on time schedule. How about in Indonesia, we can stop public transportation whenever we want.  So we don’t need to rush in our walk speed. In addition, rich or middle class Indonesian have their own private vehicle, in Singapore, 2.5 million commuters take MRT each day.

6. I miss walking culture in Singapore. In Singapore I can walk  for 2 hours  or more in a day from Monday to Friday, so I never feel guilty when I have quite much dinner, because I burnt out much calorie after that. Life is more healthy with this walking culture, pedestrian friendly, safe and clean. In Jakarta, what I eat just become an ugly fat stuck in my body.

Walking or strolling is one of activity I can’t do in Jakarta (besides I don’t reside in elite residence) . The first problem ,mostly the pavement are not possible  to pass for  a walk,  no maintenance, polluted, and  the pedestrian path are occupied by illegal vendors.

Then, I hate when there’s still unimportant guys acted so impolite  to distract my way by saying;  ” hello miss, just alone ?? etc etc.. need to accompany.” What the fuck!

How impolite or can you just mind your own business. Get out of my sight!!

7. In Indonesia, I’m going to die as Passive smoker. Nobody mind if you want to smoke in public , it seems to me they are very tolerant when you smoke in non AC bus or cafe. I got the point if you don’t like people who are smoking means you’re not a cool person. …….. I really miss Singapore fresh air in cafe or Starbucks. The government educated their people and foreigner like me that it’s nicer the environment without cigarette smoke than full of smoke air like we have in Indonesia. We have the law not to smoke in indoor, but when my brother in law asked any ashtray to the waitress, he nicely offered an ashtray to my brother in law. In fact, YOU CAN’T SMOKE IN AC-ROOM!!!!!!!!!

Again, we’re just too ignorant of this issue. In our mind, Cigarette still represents the macho guy in Marlboro advertisement. I never against smoker in the world, it doesn’t matter if you want to smoke in outdoor place.

Etcetera, etcetera.. When I told this to one of my Indonesian friend, she made an accusation that I’m such an arrogant Indonesian. SERIOUSLY, it hurts me when these ignorant friends never put themselves in someone’s else shoes!!!

Indonesia is my country, I love Indonesian sense of humor, hospitality as well, however, I’m still trying to cope with this Reverse Culture Shock, at least, I have to minimize the frustration I get and struggle to deal with it. I don’t want to fake  myself , at the same time, I also don’t want to be a stranger in my own country.

13 Responses to “Culture Shock and Reverse Culture Shock

  • Hello I’m living in New Zealand atm and i think what u’ve written here is awesome! Pretty much summarized everything that I experience every single time I go back home to Jakarta, but it’s just too difficult to express it in words. Completely agree with you about experiencing reverse culture shock being worse than experiencing culture shock. I first thought that going back home is easy and it would be like it used to be. Well, after all, I was born in Indonesia and have lived there for around 17 years. It is true that i did experience culture shock when I first stepped my foot on this foreign country for 2 weeks. But It took me more than a month to readjust with the environment last time I go back home but when things started to get okay I’ve gotta go back to NZ. Anw, hope u’ve got over dealing with this reverse culture shock thing by now. 🙂

  • Simply, one of the best article l have come across on this precious subject. I quite agree with your suppositions and will eagerly look forward to your forthcoming updates.

  • LMAO, still whiping the tears of my face… U sure cracked me up with ur “hate” for Indonesia … but ur right at some point.. BUT I CANT HELP IT I LOVE INDONESIA
    Regards the-I-love-Indonesia-girl

    • @JSM: how could u get into this page?? hahaha
      ja, love Indonesia but not Jakarta!! Believe me, jess… one or two months Jakarta is nice, after that…hell
      let me refresh your memory about Jakarta/Indonesia:
      1. They called you IBUK
      2. Even taxi driver asking you how to get there??? HAHAHA
      3. So, when are u getting married??
      4. Are you single?? How come?? oh, you’re not laku-laku.. you’re not really bad looking,.. or do we need to help you to match u with A,B,C,,X,Z guys
      5. Traffic Jam
      6. Pretending you’re a religious person. It’s important in society.
      7. etc.
      100. etc.

      you see Indonesia from tourist viewpoint.. I see Indonesia as Indonesian. And u know how Indonesian treated bules.. I tell u, Indonesians are very nice n friendly to bule like u,.. but quite different to native. The way this society judge you different from the way they judge me as genuine Indonesian. Okay,Let’s trade our passport.

  • thanks for sharing your experiences…

    I remember Germans who have lived for some years in Indonesia and then after coming back to Germany, they are really stressed out because they got so used to rely on servants in Indonesia… usually, at first when they arrived in Indonesia, they thought they would never use servants, as this seems too “colonialist”… but they get used to it very fast, and after coming back to Germany, they have to learn to do all by themselves again…

    and all the great outdoor eating offers, from kaki lima to warung, whereas in Germany, eating out is quite expensive, so you have to cook for yourself… it’s quite time consuming and you have to get used to it.

    A big challenge for those who return home is that for friends and family in their home country, nothing has changed, whereas the one who has stayed away usually has changed quite a lot due to all the new experiences with living a new lifestyle in a new culture… so friends and family like to react odd when they sense that you are not quite the same person you were before your stay in the foreign country. They can’t stand that you are not the same person anymore, accuse you of having become arrogant, odd, criticizing things that you used to take for granted before, not fitting in like before etc…

    I think this is even more the case when you come from a culture that is very collective oriented and pressing for conformism…

    culture shock after coming home to Indonesia…

    • Thanks for your insightful comments, I like it a lot!!! and also for the links, hey, its like what I’m discussing about on my blog recently, isn’t it….?

      Regarding the servant and stuff, I do agree with it. In Indonesia, you can forget how to do your own laundry and ironing your clothes, your maid will do that thing for you. Every time I’m back home I was mad at my brother because he doesn’t know how to clean his own mess, he just left his leftover/dishes without washing them back at wash basin. I used to do everything alone,and it’s frustrating me quite much. I became a moody bitch, and he’s wondering.. “what’s wrong with you..???”

      I agreed with this sentence from the link you just shared:
      She cited examples such as people leaving their leftover food wrappers on tables outside a boarding house or in the mall food courts.
      “We wouldn’t see that as much overseas. People would throw it in the bin. But here? No. They’ll leave it on the table. That’s just Indonesia.”

      When I applied this rule at KFC here, people staring at me, they think I’m part of waitress without uniform.

      Few friends of mine removed me from facebook, because the first month I returned home, I suffered this reverse culture shock, I became a totally moody girl, i never stop criticizing things in my country on my statuses, never stop comparing.. it’s the same issue with this link :

      Friends who never experienced this never understand what we feel exactly, our frustrations… and they pictured me as Arrogant Indonesian, who forgets their own root after living overseas for number of years… it hurts me so much, to be honest.

      Before returning home, I was so excited coming back home , to my lovely country… where my family and friends are. However, it’s not like what I imagined…. which friends?? My friends are not Indonesian only, and I don’t want to differentiate between Indonesian friends and non-Indonesian friends.. in my case, some of my Indonesian friends who got annoyed with my ‘reverse culture shock’ condition never understand me… and this thing really made me want to come back to my previous habitat. In fact, Indonesia is my country, I can only live freely without sponsorship in this country.

      I just found this link couple days ago:

      and I agree with her opinion, I feel the same though:
      ‘It doesn’t matter where you go, it doesn’t matter how long you stay away from your home country, if you will ever return or not – you will never be the same again, and you will never see your home place with the same eyes. It doesn’t matter if your experience was good or bad, it will never leave you. Your life is what you experience, not your thoughts. ‘

      Yes, that’s true: once you live overseas, INTEGRATED with culture in host country, You WILL NEVER BE THE SAME AGAIN. so, I’m not alone….

      As you said:‘I think this is even more the case when you come from a culture that is very collective oriented and pressing for conformism…’

      My experience is worse than I expected, because I come from ‘very collective oriented’ country which I’m already used to ‘very individual oriented’ country. Collide with each other..

  • heheh

    • hiihiii thank uuuu, smoga berguna ntar kalo kamu ke belanda, ntar pasti ngalemin culture shock.. lebih seru lagi culture shocknya… east meets west ,itu ada point nomor 7 baru ditambah.. baru inget soal rokok…. hehe maaf bagi yg merokok

  • You and I both.

    While I love Jakarta, the traffic and all — well, the traffic sometimes — there are times when I want to go back and return to Singapore. I found so much comfort being amongst people of a multitude of ethnic groups, religions, professions, stories. I spoke to complete strangers in the airports, pubs, taxis, or wherever, without worrying about the ramifications of it. I preferred asking people what country they’re from instead of what town. I do hope that one day I find myself landing in a place where I can do that again.

    The reverse culture shock is a process, though. With some people, it’ll go away, and for others, it may be a tool to continue their nomadic journey. I hope the outcome for you will work to your favour. =)

    • Yup, agreed. Continuing nomadic journey is a solution. and becoming world citizen then.. I like making random conversation in public places as well 🙂 , making new friends and gone, leave the good friendship and wandering to another places, meeting new friends and so on.

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