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reverse culture shock

Claudiaexpat introduces us to Reverse Culture Shock, the new book of Hélène Rybol.


We already know Hélène from this beautiful interview. Hélène grew up as a TCK, has an extensive experience in culture shock, and is a talented blogger and writer. Her new book, Reverse Culture Shock, deals with the complexity of feelings you experience when you go back to what supposedly is your home, after mingling with one or more different cultures for a substantial period of time.

In fact, by doing so, this great book introduces us to many more issues linked to mobile life and returns. I read it in one go, thoroughly enjoyed it, and strongly recommend it not only to those like us who move from one country to another, but also and maybe especially to anyone who would like to try and understand what it means to chose to regularly burn certainties and find reward in diving into the unknown.

The book captured me from the first sentence of the introduction. It is a collection of adapted posts from Hélène’s blog, and it tells big truths about reverse culture shock in a very simple and accessible way, besides giving valuable suggestions on how to make the most out of the myriad of feelings any expat goes through. Sentences like “Everything feels familiar and completely different at the same time” express a complex and intimate concept in the easiest possible way.

ReverseCultureShock_Cover_WebI was gripped by the concept of compartmentalizing, that is recognizing the different layers of your identity and choosing which one to use depending on the situation and the culture you are dealing with.

A process that, apart from making you a more complete being, reinforces the relationship with yourself, which, as Hélène points out so skilfully, is the predominant relationship when you become so used to shifting from culture to culture, and definitely when going through reverse culture shock.

I again applauded Hélène’s clarity when she talks about home. “Home, for me, is a constantly evolving sense of connection that can’t be defined by borders on a map”. This is such a simple yet complete and satisfying statement for those who feel at home in places that are not defined by walls or cities or languages. And she completes her thought by adding that “[…]there should be an Earth passport, nationality: Earthling”. I am sure this will be of comfort to anyone struggling to make others understand that there is much more to the concept of home than a sense of belonging built on time and repetition.

The chapter on language is also precious. It contains a lot of interesting thoughts with which anyone who lives in different languages can identify – and again, those who are monolingual can use it to try and understand the complex fascination of code-switching and penetrating cultures through their spoken codes. “[…]with languages it can be just like with people, sometimes it just clicks. Linguistic chemistry, I guess[…]”: I felt relieved to find a simple reason not to have to explain why I love German 🙂

When you close this book, you feel richer: You have found a voice for many feelings that have accompanied you in different moments of your life; if English is not your mother tongue, you will probably have learnt new terms (like gumption); your eyes will be full of the beautiful pictures taken from Hélène’s travels, and you’ll look at your experience abroad under a warm and positive light.

Rush to buy the book here


Jakarta, Indonesia
April 2016


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