The reverse culture shock W-curve was developed by John and Jeanne Gullahorn. Upon arrival in the “home” culture, the returnee experiences a “honeymoon” period where all that is grand about home seems to shine through. Visits with old friends and family are refreshing, and you may notice some exciting changes. The honeymoon period doesn’t last long, though, as cultural differences and the stresses of reentry continue to mount. For people not expecting reentry stress, the challenges can be even more severe, plunging repatriates into the pit of reverse culture shock. As returnees cope with the cultural differences of their home culture and manage the logistical tasks, they climb up the slope of re-adaptation and again regain their psychological stability. As with initial culture shock, the duration of this phenomenon varies from person to person, but the phenomenon itself is prevalent among returning members of the foreign affairs community.
When working in China I’ve often looked forward to the time when I would leave, now that I back in Prince Edward Island I’ve been missing some of the differences that set the places apart.
I’ve been doing more than my far share of moaning, complaining and generally far too critical of all things local of late. Which is to say for the first time I am experiencing reverse culture shock. Over the past 18+ years the majority of my experience on *the Island* has been on holiday, always immersed in the honeymoon period, but now that I have returned to live the experience is naturally entirely different. Here are some of the differences I am adjusting to after almost 19 years in China and Taiwan:
- No one seems to reply to email – of all the email I have sent to local businesses and government none have replied. I’ve often thought that email was broken, and I guess this proves it, as despite advising you to get in touch via email, the most I have gotten is an unrelated automated reply.
- The weather makes training difficult. This is my first Canadian winter experience since I left. It’s cold. I opted for a membership at a local gym vs. the hefty investment in winter running gear required to survive running in -10 temperatures.
- Sugar sugar sugar. I tend to make most meals myself and rely on whole unprocessed foods but in the few times I’ve tried a few treats I’ve almost gagged on the amount of sugar — even spicy Chinese style food hurts my teeth.
- Mobile phone plans tend to emphasize voice and text messaging – I haven’t used either regularly in years. In fact the phone app isn’t even on my home screen. It’s a data device for me and most people I know; communication is via WeChat, iMessage, FaceTime and others. The plans themselves are easily twice as expensive as what I pay in Taiwan and China. Data speeds are ok.
- At many places cash is still most convenient. In China I grew accustomed to never needing to take cash with me – everything was paid with my mobile. Even little fruit stalls in a market allows for payment via WeChat wallet. Here in PEI my pockets are flooded with change, it’s a never ending stream of metal, and this annoying nuisance even has resulted in huge innovative machines at the grocery store where it will sort and give you real money in exchange for a fee. Splitting a bill here also requires far more work than simply sending money via mobile.
- Online shopping seems far less prevalent here. In China I would order everything via mobile and despite living in a rather remote location it would be arrive quickly; it was almost a nightly habit. In Taiwan, items would arrive within 24hrs. The few items I felt like ordering here all required 2 weeks to just prepare the order, then another length of time to arrive at my door. I understand that this is a big country but surely orders could arrive within a week. I ordered a razor 3 weeks ago and it’s still stuck in some clearing centre somewhere. Online grocery shopping doesn’t seem to exist.
- Jobs. I always knew the job market was … difficult on PEI, otherwise so many wouldn’t leave, but I hadn’t really thought just how challenging an environment it is for design all over Canada. The economy here really is different and it takes a great deal of time to really understand the fact that there aren’t a seemingly unlimited number of companies “making things”.
- Big box stores abound. I suppose that there are similar problems in Taiwan, but you soon get tired of dropping in to each and every big box store just to grab an item or two (and you can’t buy online). I really don’t see the attraction of all the big box stores, but I guess this just requires better planning skills. Taiwan’s convenience stores really are the best.
These are just little things – there are many habits that need to be changed and it’s just a matter of time. There are a whole host of other deeper cultural differences which I face, or observe, which will may never be adjusted to, but like arriving to a foreign country, I’m sure I will eventually accept or move on.