A review of the book by H.E. Rybol
Last spring I reviewed H.E. Rybol’s book Culture Shock. The book contains practical tips and considerations for coping with culture shock when travelling or living abroad. I thought much of it also applied to the smaller changes in life, a move across town for example. So when H.E. Rybol approached me about reviewing her new book Reverse Culture Shock I readily agreed.
Reverse Culture Shock is a collection of adapted blog posts, some of which were written in response to readers’ questions. She likens culture shock to a feeling of expansion and reverse culture shock to an implosion, a “shattered sense of belonging.” She talks of letting go of the notion of home as a physical or geographical place.
She begins with her own experience returning to Europe after four years in California where she became aware of her “Europeanness”. Back in Europe people kept pointing out her “Americanness”. Specific examples of the differences she noticed in the culture of the two places and in herself help the reader understand the feeling she had of a “puzzle put together wrong.” I connected with this section of the book, thinking about the differences between my last three winters in Arizona and the rest of my life in Manitoba, although the cultural differences I encountered were fewer and smaller than the ones she experienced.
H.E. Rybol goes on to provide tips for nurturing yourself through the discomfort and dealing with changes in friendships, pointing out that some of the same techniques which help one deal with culture shock can help with reverse culture shock.
H.E. Rybol’s background brings a unique perspective to the concepts of culture shock and reverse culture shock. She was born into two nationalities (French and German) and grew up in a third nation (Luxembourg). That perspective comes through in the section on languages, where she writes about the use of different languages, having a multi-lingual brain, and code-switching between languages. She talks of new cultural layers forming when you start living in another language. I found this section somewhat disjointed. That may be because it is outside of my experience. Her list of reasons for switching between languages in conversation may resonate better with someone who has lived in more than one language.
“While living in another country . . . we become sensitive to different values, different issues, different perceptions. And we’ll likely integrate some of these into our own sense of self.” The book is about learning to recognize and live with a changed sense of self. It is short and easily read in one sitting. It provides tips on how to cope with reverse culture shock and the new sense of self, but I was left wanting more. The story felt unfinished. I wanted her to come back to the experiences she began the book with and provide more details on how she dealt with the specific items of discomfort and what she felt like when she came to terms with the changes.
At the beginning of the book H.E. Rybol says her aim is “to provide comfort, food for thought, and a little nudge, if you need it, to ease a difficult transition.” Although I was left wanting more, I think overall she met her aim. Comfort is provided both in the description of reverse culture shock (it is comforting to know what you are feeling is normal) and the tips for coping. There is also a message running through the book that one cannot avoid a period of feeling “unsettled”. There are no quick fixes for this, but the tips along with the information about the positive outcomes of reverse culture shock and of travel may provide the nudge needed to get through it, knowing the journey is worthwhile. The book ends with a series of questions which provide food for thought. It may well be that the pondering of these questions is the most important tool to help you find your own personal path through reverse culture shock.
“With time we get used to the fact that the way we internalize our experiences and surroundings constantly changes.”
Culture Shock and Reverse Culture Shock are both available in Kindle versions on Amazon.
Disclosure: I received a free copy of the book. As usual, all opinions are my own.