Voyage from Vancouver to the Philippines:
the different stages of reverse culture shock

Philipines by Phoebe Yu

Photo by Phoebe Yu

A few months after moving back to my home country of the Philippines, I still continue to feel the effects of reverse culture shock, like unpleasant aftershocks after a big quake. Just when you think you have survived through the worst temblors, another one comes rumbling around.

Being a third-culture kid, which is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside their parents’ culture (check out for more info), the effects of reverse culture shock are all the more apparent. Spending a significant amount of time away from my home country – 11 years to be exact – there is no doubt I would have developed into a very different individual from what I had been 11 years ago.

In my own experience, one of the most difficult things is finding people I can talk to who understand what I’m experiencing. Most people, who haven’t experienced living abroad for an extended period of time, don’t see what a big deal moving back really is. After all, this is where I’m from, where my family’s from and I speak the language fluently.

I shouldn’t have any problems, right? Well, yes and no.

On the surface, it should be easy to adjust to life back in the Philippines, since I don’t have any trouble with the language and I, more or less, have established social capital – like my family or friends of my family. I wouldn’t have to start from zero the way new immigrants have to. But therein lies the taxing duality of growing up between cultures.

In a lot of ways, moving back to a country you left is even more difficult than moving to a completely new country. When you move to a new country, it feels like an adventure – you don’t know what you’ll do or where you’ll end up. But moving back evokes the feeling of ‘been there, done that.’ Or it also creates an idealized version of ‘home’ that brings certain expectations of familiarity. But the reality is, you have changed and the home you once left is no longer the same either. All of a sudden, you have a very different idea of what ‘home’ is to you.

Reverse culture shock comes in four stages. The first stage is disengagement. The second is euphoria. After that is irritability and hostility. And the last stage is readjustment and adaptation.

That being said, even though the last stage seems to be the happy equilibrium that I should strive for, the thought of adapting, and being just like everyone else fills me with an undeniable sense of aversion. I like being myself and how I’ve grown up between cultures, seen different sides to different societies, and met people from all parts of the world. I have never appreciated the kind of multi-faceted diversity so distinctly characterized in Vancouver as much as I have now.

Despite the challenges I stand to face at the moment, I’m glad I’ve had the pleasure and honour of growing up in a city that makes it easy for people to settle in and that duly appreciates an individual’s unique cultural attributes.

~~ Phoebe Yu

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the different stages of reverse culture shock

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