Reverse culture shock – is it a thing?

If you’ve been following along, you’ll know that I’ve been embarking on the simple quest of packing up my life in Australia and moving half-way around the world to London.  Of course, it’ll be easy, right?

Heading back home for a while

So, for those not in the know with UK immigration laws, in order to qualify and apply for a visa to join my partner in the UK, I need to return to Australia and perform the whole visa application process there – and of course, I can’t leave the country again until I receive my passport back.  Given the current UK immigration climate of Brexit, the usually straightforward and timely process of a priority application can take upwards of 3 months to complete.

So, here I am.  Sitting in a familiar city (Melbourne), writing this blog entry – reflecting on how strange it is to be back home.

Did I experience culture shock when staying in the UK?

I was in London for around 5 months.  During that time, I’ve certainly encountered differences in how things operate, how to get around, the various daily pressures that don’t exist home (such as taking a deep breath and hopping on the tube in peak hour) – but I wouldn’t say that I had any sort of Culture Shock.  Sure, demographics are different, but I also loved that.  I grew to love being constantly surrounded by impossibly large crowds and having to push past people to get where I needed to go.  Different, yes – shocking… no!

I know I’ve changed, but why do I feel so strange being home?

Reverse culture shock

I put this down to reverse culture shock.  I’ve read about it, didn’t really thing it was real, but here we are.  Sure, I love being able to visit my family and friends readily.  I enjoy the food options that have re-opened for me (did I mention that food in London is generally awful?) and of course, I’m surrounded by familiarity.

But why, do I feel so underwhelmed by it all – and if I admit it, as little uncomfortable?

5 months isn’t a hugely long period of time by any measure, but surprisingly, its an ample amount of time for things to change dramatically when you’re not around.

When you’re away – things are free to change without you knowing

You know the drill – if you’re exposed to something every day, you would hardly notice the gradual changes that occur every day that of course, build up to a big change down the track… (not saying that I’ve gained weight or anything…)  So of course, if you’re not around something on a daily basis, you’re bound to notice the changes when you see them stacked on top of each other.

I feel this way about Melbourne.  Some of my favourite stores are gone… there are new ones in their place that everyone seems to know about… there are holes in the ground for a new metro tunnel being built… there are new buildings in places that I wouldn’t have expected (including some wicked architecture, including a leaning building!) and events that I forgot about (such as Melbourne Fashion Week, which is in full swing).

Wow, what happened, Melbourne?  You’ve changed!  Some for the good, and some for the sake of change.  Overall, I find change good, so this is not what is unnerving me… So what is?

The things that stay the same, but I may have forgotten about

I reflect on a recent need to travel from the middle of town to the Docklands area of Melbourne – Let’s be clear, it’s city fringe and not far away.  My partner and I decided that we should allow 15 minutes to hop on a tram and be there with plenty of time to spare.  It was of course, a week day – middle of the day.  The city was in full swing, so why oh why would it take any longer to get out there?  After-all, we would allow 20 minutes to get from Canary Wharf to Oxford St in London and have time to spare.

So, I decided to walk to my appointment and my partner hopped on the tram.  I walked 3 blocks, and noticed that no tram had gone past.  This was odd, as it had taken me about 15 minutes to walk – the time we thought it would take to get to Docklands, yet, the tram hadn’t even gone passed yet.  Uh-oh.  Of course, we forgot.  Trams in Melbourne are soooo slow.  We consistently commented that it was quicker to walk from one end of Melbourne to the other rather than catch a train – yet we forgot.

There were countless examples of situations that we would have been consistently frustrated by – yet, we had conveniently forgotten.  The slow pedestrians – the lack of infrastructure, the poor shop hours (did you know that stores close around 5:30 during week days?), the focus on self service rather than service, the sheer volume of ‘call this number for service’ or submit everything online only and of course, be offered no help whatsoever.

Wow, what a negative couple of paragraphs..  There we go… That’s it – Reverse culture shock in a nutshell.  It’s the things that HAVEN’T changed (but really should have) which cause the reverse culture shock – and potentially the reason why you left in the first place.

Get over it and move on

I’ve decided that I just need to let it go.  The people around me can’t see that there’s a better way.  They can’t see that if they want to walk, they should walk at a decent pace.  Nobody wants to hear how good the infrastructure is overseas.  Nobody wants to hear me whining.

Best just get over it, accept that this is how things are, but also focus on either changing what I can or focusing on getting back to London.  Also, focus on the world class aspects of Melbourne and that oh so beautiful skyline – especially at night.  Oh and let’s face it – an awesome cup of coffee.

I am a nice person, but not when I’m frustrated.  The quicker I can get over this frustration the better – for myself and those around me.  I’ll pick my battles and leave a positive impression on those around me.  I will, of course, be that horrible man walking down the street that’s likely to push past you if you suddenly stop to check your texts – I can’t help what I have become!

Have you experienced reverse culture shock?

Let me know by leaving a reply to this story in the comments below.


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