From ‘Americanos’ to ‘Kopi-Os’: 4 tips to reduce reverse culture shock

It is common to face anxieties — even culture shock — when moving home after a prolonged stay abroad. But fret not, here’s sage advice from fellow Singaporeans on easing those fears!

24 February 2020 / By SGN

Living and working in a new country can be a great way to expand one’s worldview by experiencing new cultures and getting acquainted with new people. While it is likely you’ll need some time to get used to the unspoken rules and norms, over time you’ll learn to adapt and pick up the subtle nuances which come to exemplify a country and its people.

However, unless you are planning to live abroad for good, you’ll eventually need to contemplate making the shift back home. For many people, the idea of making this transition is enough to stir up feelings of anxiety and apprehension. But it doesn’t have to be so.

We asked Neha Thakkar, Eric Lim, Kelly Loy and Abigail Han, four Singaporeans who have spent years abroad to share tips on successfully navigating their transition back home.

1) Bone up on your local knowledge

Prior to planning your shift back home, Eric advises you to reach out to friends and family in Singapore to get a feel of what has been happening at home.

While it’s tough, Eric (above) encourages you to find ways to re-establish or form new social and professional circles to help you ease into life back home.

“Singapore is constantly changing and at a very fast pace, so what we know as Singapore so many years ago is likely not the same Singapore we will be coming back to,” notes Eric, who has previously been based in the US as well as countries across the Asia Pacific region. “Our local knowledge needs updating so we can make the most optimal decisions for our personal and professional needs.”

2) Start planning as soon as possible

Moving back to Singapore, following an extended stay can be a complicated process which includes many administrative components such as closing bank accounts or terminating one’s employment pass. As such, Eric shares the importance of an early start to give yourself time to explore a broad range of options and identify areas where you may need advice or help.

Returning Singaporeans should make full use of online resources which can help with the technical parts such as finding a home or school for your kids, according to Neha (above).

You should also make full use of the resources you have at your disposal, from books, websites to online groups. Neha enthuses, “Connecting with [online groups like] the Singapore Global Network can serve as a lighthouse for overseas Singaporeans, as well as for a broader community that is keen to connect to Singapore in some shape or form.” Prior to her return to Singapore, Neha was an overseas Singaporean for more than a decade, having worked and lived in various parts of the world including Switzerland, France, United States, Qatar, and Vanuatu.

3) Decide on what your big project will be after returning

In more ways than one, choosing to move back home can mark the closing of one chapter and the beginning of another in your life. As such, it will be wise to think about what you’d like to pursue after moving back home. Eric points out that this can range from finding the right job to figuring out where to live and which schools your kids will go to.

Kelly, who studied and worked in Australia for more than two-and-a-half years, says you can start by researching for places you’d like to work at before moving home. “It would be good to speak to some of your friends that are working in Singapore to ask about their work-life or company culture.”

Make sure you mentally prepare yourself before you make the move back home, notes Kelly (above).

One of the biggest challenges that Kelly faced was bridging the differences between the working cultures in Australia and Singapore. “[I learnt that] it just takes time to ease back to the Singapore way of life. But it helps me feel better to know that I am reunited with my family and friends.”

Eric echoes the same view, adding that you should observe and integrate into the working culture instead of focusing on the differences in an overseas culture that you may have gotten used to.

4) Be open to embracing new ways of re-connecting

An assistant brand manager in the Public Relations Agency, Abigail (above) used to live in the UK where she graduated from University.

Another way to reconnect with the local culture is to meet with close friends and family members, points out Abigail. Seeing a familiar face or indulging in an activity that you used to do, is a sure-fire way to remove any feelings of unease.

In addition to reconnecting with loved ones or close friends, Neha shares alternative ways to reconnect with local culture. Try signing up for social and professional events which can help you expand your network. “Personally, I [also] found great value in volunteering at the grassroots, which helped me reconnect to my community in a profound and meaningful way.”