Adapting to life back in the UK- Reverse culture shock.

I recently read a quote somewhere saying ‘the hardest thing about living abroad is returning home’. There have never been words more true.

I may have been back ‘home’ for over 7 weeks now, but adapting to life back in the UK is not easy. After researching, I found out that what I am experiencing is not just me being silly, it’s something that is real, something that others experience too. Reverse culture shock.

We’ve all heard of culture shock, I sure experienced that too when I first moved to Turkey. Moving thousands of miles away and being thrown in at the deep end, oceans away from all my family and friends and the life I had known for 19 years. No more ready meals, no wearing shoes inside, the fact it’s not uncommon to meet someone in the bus stop, instantly learn where he’s from, how old he is, and be invited to some random family occassion they’re holding soon. Adapting to ‘Turkish time’ and accepting that nothing will ever be done quickly. Learning to sleep through the call to prayer at 5am. The infamous Turkish toilets, and not being able to put paper down the normal toilets. Haggling in every shop you come across. Not being able to walk down the street without being called over by everyone you might have met once upon a time. Not hearing any English conversations… none of these are bad things, just very different. I adapted quickly and ended up living  99% like a local minus the village baggy flowery trousers. 

Culture shock, you expect. But reverse culture shock is different. On return to your ‘home country’ you don’t expect to feel like a foreigner, which is exactly how I still feel. The two and a half years I lived in Turkey I lost my connections to ‘home’, I felt less and less like an English girl, whilst obviously not being Turkish either. It’s a strange feeling, one that I can’t explain. It hits me at the most random times, sat on a bus and hearing English conversations all around, seeing English sign posts, seeing all the food in the English supermarket, it’s all quite overwhelming.

I suppose one of the main things which is difficult to adapt to is the fact that the lives of the people I love and care about at ‘home’ have moved on. Family and friends have new lives, some have attended and graduated university, others are married and have children, my mum has found a boyfriend and is engaged and my little sister who was a 3 week old baby when I left, is now over two and a half years old. Whilst I was not naive enough to expect everything to remain the same, it’s still hard to cope with things being so different to when I left them. Everyone else has moved on, and I’m back starting from the beginning, having to find a new job, adapting to life back with my family, and trying to find time to see friends who are all busy with their own lives. I don’t feel as close to my friends or family anymore, I left my own ‘family’ back in Turkey. I do feel like a foreigner in my own ‘home’. 

Living back with my family is hard, after living alone with Berkay for two years. I miss the peace. Quiet evenings without a moody teenager and excitable toddler running around. Selfishly, I miss not having to worry about anyone else and just doing my own thing, washing up when I want, eating when I want, having control of the tv 😉  I feel less independent. I love my family but it’s still such an odd feeling being back, I feel like I’m intruding, this is their home, and not mine.

Another thing hard to adjust and adapt to is the whole ‘want it-get it’ attitude that is common here (I’m not saying every English person lives this way, please no nasty comments!) If someone wants something, they go out and buy it. Food, clothes, a phone.. whatever. While in Turkey I lived on the bare necessities, I had no luxuries. My dad has been bugging me for weeks to go out and buy a coat, or a pair of tights without a hole in the toe. He took out a new phone contract for me last week, despite me telling him I was happy with my ancient LG phone with a black and white screen and no internet capability that belongs in the stone ages. To me, that’s not the normal thing to do, If I were back in Turkey I’d just deal with it and carry on, make do and focus on the more important things like paying bills. I find that people’s priorities here are so backwards.  I am starting to fall into that trap now too, especially where food is concerned!

I’m much more judgmental of the UK now I have lived somewhere else, perhaps wrongly, perhaps not. I have seen a different side of life that some have not, people assume I lived like a tourist, had what I wanted when I wanted it and had a life of luxury and a two year holiday. That’s so wrong.

People can’t understand what’s so difficult about returning to their own culture, customs, and language, they say ‘just move on get over it’. It’s really not that easy. The ‘just move on’ attitude doesn’t help, it only makes me feel more isolated, more like I don’t fit in. People not understanding has led to arguments. I was reluctant to do this post as I know any family reading will still be annoyed and upset about the things I say. Having read fellow ex-expat’s blogs about this subject, I decided to post it anyway, it’s important to know these feelings are real and if just one person reads and feels less alone and isolated, then it’s done it’s job.

33 thoughts on “Adapting to life back in the UK- Reverse culture shock.

  1. Really good post. We’re at the start of our adventure – planning to move TO Turkey next year. Interesting to read about the other side….hopefully we won’t be coming back though! Hope you adjust to life back in the UK soon. x

  2. I feel like this and find myself being very critical when we spend a long summer holiday in the UK every year. I am sure my family get sick of me saying ‘this would never happen in Turkey’ and ‘this UK summer weather is like our winters in Fethiye’. They must want to shoot me sometimes….and as if Turkey doesn’t have it’s own problems of which I am fully aware, but once you have led a settled life in more than one culture, it becomes near impossible to keep from comparing the two places and quite often I dream of how I could create a ‘Turkland’ where the best things from both my ‘homelands’ could be mixed together and I could live happily ever after without there being any greener grass on other sides!

  3. Think this is a normal feeling as there is good and bad in both England and Turkey. It does get better the longer you stay. Good luck xxxx

  4. Oh Danni, it was if I had written that about me. I was in Turkey for near on five years, been back here three come the end of December and I still miss the things you have spoken about. I loved how cheaply you could live there and the seasonal food that tasted delicious. I came home as a mother in her sixties to all the family troubles that had been left behind. I had a grand daughter that I missed so much, she had been to visit often since she was three months old, but I missed all the little things she was learning, I have got another one since coming back and couldnt imagine going back and not seeing either of them. I have my husband here some consolation I guess,,lol,,

  5. This is how I feel when I go to my hometown too. I don’t belong there anymore. Everyone looks alike (I am used to variety in the sea of people) and are intolerable of things that are different. It’s annoying and small minded. My eating habits are sooo not what they are used to. I am still in the same country, but the geographic location makes a huge difference on culture and diversity. There are still things that I love there; family, friends, simplicity, Mrs. Fisher’s potato chips, the best cheese and pizza. On the other hand, I am always happy to go home to my mixed up culture and lighter diet. 🙂

  6. I feel exactly like this and your post has done it’s job as I feel a little better now.
    I’ve been through these feelings a number of times having been born in Turkey then moving to England as a kid then coming back to Turkey for a few months then coming back for a season this year. I haven’t stayed in Turkey for as long as you have since leaving when I was a child but I still get those feelings you mention.
    I hate when people think because you have been abroad for so long, you are just having a really long holiday, it’s not like that at all and living in Turkey is extremely difficult indeed. There were times where I was crying my eyes out wishing I wasn’t in Turkey and wanting to go home but I knew it was just a moment. Turkey definitely have a better quality of life than England you just have to sacrifice living with significantly less amount of money then you had in England no matter what job you had in Britain (unless you went to work in Istanbul maybe)
    I’m still getting used to things now. There are things that I did miss very much, like having jokes with people and talk about stuff with friends/family that might have been considered rude (lol) I missed being able to go in a shop and just buy something and not be stalked and having to haggle for it. I missed English Chocolate and a Sunday lunch (which I got over after my first one back) I missed internet whenever I want. But that’s about it which is not much (of course I missed my family above everything and the only thing I properly missed, I’m just talking about general things)
    Now that I’m back I’m once again missing turkish things and Turkish life.
    All my friends have moved on. I have been home for about 6weeks now and I have not seen a single friend of mine (that lives near me) but I’m not really bothered as everyone has their own life. Everyone moves on, gets a job/gets married/ has kids. I’m not surprised.
    What I don’t miss about Turkish life is the family getting into each other’s family business and having opinions about everything you do (usually negative)
    Being back in England I feel so laid back compared to everyone else. All everyone seems to care about is work to make money for the weekend, going out getting drunk etc. what’s on tv and getting obsessed and stressed about Christmas which I find really sad as it’s just become a joke about spending so much money on stuff people don’t want and spending the first half of the next year paying the debt off. It’s nothing to do with Jesus anymore and everything seems so artificaial and competitive. At least there’s not stuff like that in Turkey. When it’s Ramadan which people call ‘Turkish version of Xmas’ it’s all about family and spending time together which I find much better and has much more value and meaning.
    Also I miss all the fresh fruit and veg the Turkish markets have to offer. English supermarkets depress me when I see everything in packets, even fruit! Nothing looks appetising or fresh and the focus is on all the crap like chocolate crisps and alcohol and ready made meals. I know we can help not being able to harvest such a variety of fresh veg and fruit because we are an island and the climate is not right but still the produce in the shop could be better.
    I miss just being able to hop on a bus and get to where you want to go for next to nothing. And this isn’t just a tourist thing either as it was the same in Adana but it’s probably to less Turkish people then uk being able to afford a car.
    I miss being able to go out at night and have a nice walk about with other people around but that’s just a tourist thing so can’t expect it to be like that here.
    I miss the mild weather, the laid back way of life and the respect people have for each other. Both countries have their good and bad bits but if I had a decent amount of money and a job I could do in either country and have my family with me then I know where I’d rather live

    • Wow, thanks for such a long comment, interesting to read 🙂 Glad you can relate and that my post done its job hehe 🙂

      You’re so right, its not one big holiday and it irritates me so much when people say ‘what are you complaining for? youve had 2 years abroad doing nothing’ :@

      Ive only met up with my friends once in the 7.5 weeks ive been back :/ you’re right, everyone has their own lives and moves on.

      Very true about Christmas too, bayram /ramadan etc is lovely in Turkey isnt it, real family time and none of the commercialised stuff we have in the UK at Christmas, totally agree with you there!

      oh yes, if I had money i’d be back to Turkey in an instant xx

  7. Well Danni, I have just moved back to the UK for good now and understand completely what you are saying, it is a reverse culture shock that you have to have been there to understand fully, hopefully over time it will get easy and that it does not carry on with constant comparison to the past, but I suspect it will be that way for a while! x

    • Yes I think it may be that way for a while but it’ll get easier eventually hopefully, i wanted to go back to see berkay and boncuk after christmas, and still will if he doesnt get his visa, but im too worried about not being able to get on the plane and leave again. 😦 x

  8. I totally understand you! I have to say it has happened to me twice. I live in Japan for 4 years as a high school student and then returned to the states and then again 7 years later I moved back to Japan for another 2 and had an even bigger reverse culture shock. Mainly because I was an adult and I noticed things that were very different from what I experianced in Japan every day. The biggest thing was how dirty the US is compared to Japan. It’s someone’s job to actually clean up the streets. They take pride in keeping it clean while in the US we throw our trash out of our cars on the highway and don’t think twice about it. Also the people, I was shocked at how rude we can be as Americans depending on what part of the country you are in. It was a big shock and I’m sure if and when we finally do move again, I’ll experience that shock all over again.

    But I also find that moving to different parts of this country can be a big culture shock as well. Because even though we speak the same language and live under the same government we all behave differently. Like people on the West Coast (where I live) are more open minded and diverse where on the East Coast there can still tend to be hostility towards different races and life there is so much more high paced.

  9. I completely understand you. I don`t feel I belong when I go back to the UK, so much so I haven`t been back for over 5 years. Sometimes, I don`t feel I belong here either. I am always referred to as a foreigner and so is my daughter who`s father was Turkish.
    I think where you lived in Turkey is very different to where I live. People around me live off credit cards and most have the latest `phones and tablets. All the shopping malls are full of people buying, buying buying.
    I often feel in limbo, neither British or Turkish and trying to take the best from both cultures.
    I know I could never live in the UK again, I have been away too long, but I am also considering moving away from Turkey. The people have changed and not for the better.
    I suppose I will also get lots of nasty remarks for saying this, but is its my personal opinion and I have lived here and been connected with Turkey longer than most.
    I really hope things improve for you. Fleur.XXX

    • Are you in Istanbul? I’ve forgotten, sorry ! Yes I think Fethiye is different, it’s more traditional, not the touristy parts though, obviously. no shopping malls either lol. I wouldnt want to live somewhere like you describe though, dont blame you for wanting to move away, what about moving to another area of Turkey? x

  10. Our Son came ‘home’ from Australia in September, for 2 weeks. He had left these shores 9 years ago. He said he does not feel English now and looks forward to returning to his home.He said that all his friends have moved on– some for the better and some for worse.

  11. I know how you feel, I was like that when I came back from living over there. In some ways I do still feel like that. I think you also look at things differently, when you live somewhere else. I live with my dad here, and although I’m really grateful, it is hard going back to that when in turkey I have a home which I just share with my partner. Going from being independent, back to being back home on little wages and dependent on others is difficult. When I first got back I had to keep telling myself not to shake peoples hands, as I was so used to doing that. What your feeling is natural and I don’t think anyone can be angry with you for that.

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  14. I remember this feeling really well from when we came back from Turkey. You feel so different to everyone around you, as if they’ve all just been plodding along and you’ve done so many interesting things…

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  16. Exactly how i feel, thanks for much for writing this..youve basically put my whole heart into words..I will be showing this to my mum in the morning! nobody seems to understand the pain I have of returning home and im sick of people saying ive said a long holiday, when really I count their as my home, not here.

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  18. I also relate to this. I am back in Canada and the transition is tough. But I think it’s just a matter of letting time pass.

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