Reverse culture shock stages

As humans, we like certainty. We prefer linear processes rather than chaos. But when you deal with something like reverse culture shock, there are times when things simply don’t proceed in such a linear manner. The stages described by Kepets (see below) are no doubt representative of what many may experience.

Back in the USA: Reflecting on Your Study Abroad Experience and Putting It to Good Work 
By Dawn Kepets

For many, moving on from their time abroad is easy. Much easier than moving abroad. But there are others who adapted well to their host nation, and suddenly found their host nation looking more like their home nation.

For those, this is when reverse culture shock starts evolving into a complex form of grief.

Reverse culture shock has many similarities to grief and loss. The loss of a cherished experience, the identity you built up for yourself abroad, the friends you had… any single one of these losses can hurt badly. But returning home is complicated by the fact that all these losses are simultaneous and very fast. One morning you’re there, and the next… you’re gone.

I’ve personally found the stages of grief described by Kübler-Ross more helpful in identifying where I am at. However, instead of looking at it as a linear process, see it more like a description of the stages you might oscillate through as you attempt to adjust back to life back home.

Stages of grief

In the beginning, denial might manifest itself as you refuse to accept the fact that you are back home. For me, I stayed out of home as much as possible, not wanting to confront the fact that I was back home, living with my parents again. For others, denial might look like constant reminiscence about your times abroad, looking through your photos, emails, and memories of your time there.

Anger begins as you start questioning why you returned home. It can be frustrating as you compare your current experiences to what happened previously. You find that home never seems to measure up. As the saying goes, ‘The grass is always greener on the other side.’

‘If only I had stayed! If only I had found a job abroad! If only…’ Bargaining gives you a sense of control as your imagination starts around what you could have done to change the situation. However, you and I know the truth. You’re back now. And in this present moment, this is no longer your host country.

As you slowly stop running away and start facing reality, you start getting in touch with your emotions. Depression sets in. the sadness and heaviness surrounding your losses fill you. I sobbed when I finally realised that England was no more. You might too. It’s okay.

Accepting what has gone and embracing what might come is a place that all of us would hopefully come to. For me, that is still a stage I’ve yet to reach. For others, what helped? You might wish to comment below. Or if it’s personal, please feel free to wish out at  

The Richest Man in Babylon

The Richest Man in Babylon, George S. Clason

I listened to this audiobook with great interest, as it featured a series of parables rather than a mere recollection of tips and justification on why you should follow them.


The foundation of your financial wellbeing is your defences. Clason used the story of a siege on Babylon’s heavily fortified city to express how important protection was.

6 months of cash and adequate insurance will be highly important foundations before you even start investing. It ensures that in the event of a rainy day, instead of liquidating your assets, you can use these savings.

Never underestimate the power of protection.


‘A portion of what you earn belongs to you.’ This seemingly simple principle is actually rather profound. Far from sounding rather obvious and daft, all too often, the money we earn ends up lining the pockets of our online retailers, restaurants, or clothing merchants. How much of our monthly income actually ends up in our own pocket, rather than the pockets of others?

This book recommended putting aside 10% a month, which is relatively easy. Next time you are tempted to make that impulse buy on Amazon, take a deep breath, and think: do I really need this?

I find it useful to have all these automated. Each month, set up a standing order that automatically transfers 10% of the amount to the highest interest-grossing account. That way, there is no excuse.

warren buffett savings


Money is our servant, not our master. I loved how Clason expressed how we have to let our money have children, and then allow them to have even more children!

What are the practical steps you can take?

I believe a step into the stock market is inevitable. Follow the advice of Andrew Hallam in his book ‘The Millionaire Teacher’. Do difficult things simply.

  1. Use your age to determine your stock market allocation.
    1. If you are 22 (like me), allocate 22% to a sovereign bond index fund (such as the ABF Bond Index), and then split the remaining 78% between your local index and the global stock market index.
    2. For me, that means investing in the STI ETF and the db x-trackers MSCI World TRN Index ETF.
  2. Rebalance at the start of each year. If stock market increases have meant that the market value of your index fund is now 15%, sell off the stock market indexes to rebalance them to the previous percentages.

Following such rules seems stupid, and simple, but it works. Andrew Hallam has shown it in his research.

3 simple rules for greater financial security. Follow these timeless principles, and you can be sure that wealth is just around the corner.

SWSD 2018

I think it’s quite easy to spend $500 on a conference and wonder what that expenditure was for.


SWSD 2018 is a conference that brings together social workers from all around the world for a week of presentations.

Personally, I found it hard to follow many of the academic presentations, many of which were dull and boring. But my conversations with practitioners stayed deeply with me, and led me to see another side to social work. Here, I share three lessons I gleaned from my time there.

First and foremost, focus on being, not doing.

Being with someone in the midst of their pain, instead of focusing on what I could do for them was a deep revelation. Throughout my short career, I think there has been an excessive focus on – what is your problem, and what can I do to alleviate your suffering? Instead, I realised that sometimes, being with someone was more helpful than anything else you could do for them. A practitioner shared with me how feeling those emotions for your service user, could be deeply cathartic for them. In social work, there is a heavy emphasis on hiding our tears. But this practitioner shared that showing those emotions could unlock the emotional barriers that existed for the service user.

Secondly, use silence. Many of us find silence uncomfortable. But silence can provide a unique space to contemplate. It can also provide the key to opening the floodgates of expression. When we refuse to interrupt a service user’s processing of his/her emotions with our questions, we illustrate to them: I am here with you, walking with you, regardless of the pain you are having. I am willing to share that pain. Take your time. There is no rush. Your emotions matter.

Lastly, actions speak louder than words. I had the privilege to meet Maria Turda, a social worker who currently works in a refugee camp in Uganda. For me, she epitomised moving to the place of need. During the conference, I met many who spoke about enticing concepts. But I wondered if any of them, me included, would be brave enough to move from our place of comfort into places of real need. Where dying whilst practising is a reality. It made me reflect: have I been guilty of taking the easy way out? Have I pushed myself way beyond my boundaries?


I want to end with a quote shared by Mary Robinson, the first female President of Ireland and the keynote speaker during the opening ceremony.

 It may seem daunting, but I am a prisoner of hope. We are more connected than ever before, we have more knowledge, and there are solutions if we work together. What unites us is our common humanity.”

  • Desmond Tutu

Stronger helping hands

I hand him a pair of plastic gloves and he takes one gingerly, trying to fit his hand into it. Two of his fingers get cramped into a single pocket and he looks at me for help. I gently nudge his fingers, separating them into different slots.


I take the glove from his hand and then hold up his other hand but the joints are clenched at strange angles. He enthusiastically puts the glove on the other hand but it struggles to fit his hand. Seemingly getting nowhere, I take the other glove, putting it down on the table.


All around us, the canteen bustles with people as they prepare the food for their sandwich.


Leading him slowly to the pot of boiling water, I present to him the ham we are supposed to douse in boiling water. He takes the ham and puts it in the water, visibly excited at being given a chance to finally prepare his own food. His enthusiasm leads him to putting more ham than is physically possible for us to finish. I tell him to stop, but he continues. He doesn’t seem to understand me. I take away the tray of ham from him, and then sits him down. He looks at me, puzzled, but I move on to take the tray of eggs.


We have to boil the eggs now. Eager to help, he stands up excitedly, and tries to put the eggs into the boiling water. I stop him though, because I don’t think he is able to lower the eggs gently enough. I’m afraid that he will end up breaking the eggs instead. He sits down, visibly disappointed. At this moment, I pause, and I look back at him. He smiles at me, seemingly forgetting how I have rejected him once again.


As he smiles, I struggle to keep a lid on my emotions, as they threaten to boil over. I’m touched because the boy I work with bears a childlike naivety and innocence.


I seem to have forgotten all the effort we have made to make this event an inclusive one, one which all can participate in comfortably. When the boy has wanted to try, I’ve instead stolen away his chance.


But perhaps more importantly, he is intellectually disabled.


Despite his intellectual handicap, he has refused to let it be one. He has treasured the opportunity to cook the ham and boil the eggs, cherishing the simple task of preparing his own food. But it is something most of us take for granted, because we are able.


And in that moment, a little boy, intellectually disabled and barely able to fully utilize one hand, had taught me so much about living life to its fullest than I had in my past 19 years.


Eugene screams at me, drags me around and beats me up too. But I still love him.


You see, Eugene is not normal like you and I are. He is intellectually disabled. I first met him whilst volunteering at an organization helping the intellectually disabled. Since then, we’ve stuck.


As a new volunteer, handling Eugene was one of my greatest challenges. He would always drag me out of the centre, mumbling, “Walk, walk, walk.” and begrudgingly, I would oblige. When I didn’t feel like I was in the mood to walk, I would give a flat “No!” but he would run out, and I would have to chase him, and we ended up walking again.


Other times, he would keep calling out for his “papa” and try to find him in every corner of the neighbourhood. I would then have to look for his “papa” with him, whilst constantly reminding him that his “papa” was coming soon.


Taking care of Eugene is no easy feat. It’s hard not to get frustrated. After all, we are but volunteers who are putting aside our time to help. Why put ourselves through such difficulties? But one incident changed my perception of him.


It was the Annual Camp for the Intellectually Disabled. The night before, I had only managed to sleep at 5am. Groggy with sleep, I was tasked again to take care of Eugene during the camp.


When the camp started, Eugene started having to answer many calls from nature. But each time we went to the washroom, it seemed as though nature had given him yet another missed call. I was naturally irritated. Throughout the day, Eugene decided to be particularly uncooperative, rarely sitting through any activities and frequently running away, making me chase him thoughout the compound.


Finally, the day ended. Being new, I didn’t expect to help the trainees to bathe. However, passing them the soap didn’t seem to elicit any sort of response. It was time to help.


It was hard not to feel irked giving them a good rubdown. Eugene stood there silently, and that was the quietest I had seen him the whole day. He seemed to be trying his best to cooperate.


In retrospect, being in such an “intimate” setting with Eugene changed my attitudes towards him, and volunteering.


Simple things that we took for granted, such as bathing, were activities that Eugene faced much difficulty with. Daily, I complained about how hard juggling studies and CCA was. I had failed to be appreciative for the chance to study, or to even play sports.


Sometimes, I think that whatever we do is entirely useless. The art and craft, the outings… they don’t seem to spur any change in our trainees.


But I realize that far and above that, it’s about spending time with this special group of people, who are all too often spurned by society.


Why do we bother to do so much for a group of clients that bear no blood relation to us? I guess the answer is love. Just as people like us deserve the right to be loved, Eugene also has the right to be loved. He may be special, but is that reason for society to abandon him?


After all, Eugene didn’t ask to be born this way.