Home » Season 1 » Reverse Culture Shock

Reverse Culture Shock

In this episode, we’re talking about reverse culture shock, which is when you return to your home country and see everything through a different lens. It’s like you can see yourself, your family, your community as if you were a foreigner and it’s a crazy experience. Have you experienced reverse culture shock before? Let’s talk about it!


  1. Have you ever experienced reverse culture shock?
  2. What did you notice about your own culture?
  3. If you haven’t experienced reverse culture shock, what do you think a foreigner would say or think about your culture?

Remember: If you experience a feeling of “not belonging” or if you see your own culture differently after a period of time away, you’re not alone! This is completely normal. It’s a great opportunity to see things from a different point of view and notice how we are all influenced by our families, environments, and cultures.



Welcome, everybody, to Improve your English, Improve your life. I’m Jackie. Super excited to be back here with you all. And I’m here with –


Foster. Hey, Jackie. How are you doing today?


I’m doing okay. How about you?


I’m doing well. And also, I am your other co-host and also an English teacher, podcaster. Happy to be here.


Yes. Yes. And today we’re going to talk about reverse culture shock. So I’m sure a lot of our listeners have spent some time in a foreign country, or maybe they plan to spend some time in a foreign country. And usually we prepare ourselves for this initial culture shock when you go to a new place and “How am I going to adapt” and “How is it going to be?” But in my experience, and I think in a lot of people’s experiences, the reverse culture shock can actually be the most difficult. And Foster, I know you are going to your hometown in South Carolina in about a month, right?

reverse = como adjetivo, significa “de maneira inversa à esperada” ou “de maneira inversa ao que normalmente acontece”
– Mothers sometimes use reverse psychology on their children to make them do things they need to.

culture shock = choque cultural
– When you travel to a new country before doing research, it’s very common to have some culture shock.

hometown = cidade natal
– Next week I’ll visit my family in my hometown.


Yeah, I think in exactly a month, if I’m not mistaken.


So why don’t you talk to us a little bit about your experience with reverse culture shock and how you are preparing yourself for this trip – if you are doing anything.


Oh, boy. I haven’t started yet, but I probably should begin preparing soon. So before I dive into it, I’m curious, Jackie; do you think that culture shock and reverse culture shock – number one, can we define those? Number two, do you think that’s, like, good phrasing? Because in my experience, it’s not like – there’s not a shock element to it. It’s more of like a… you know, it kind of happens, it kind of creeps up on you. And it’s… I don’t know. I feel like we could have a better phrase culturally.

it creeps up on you = expressão idiomática que significa algo como “chega de maneira sutil e inesperada” (principalmente um sentimento)
– This game is scary with the kind of slow fear that creeps up on you.


Oh… no, I agree with you. I think it also depends on where you go. I think if you go to a country that’s very, very different; for example, when I was in college, I spent a little bit of time in Morocco and that was shockingly different because it was like another world! I had never… I mean, it reminded me of, like, a Disney movie. It was just so different in every single way from what I knew. But if I had gone to, like, England or somewhere else, maybe even Ireland, it probably wouldn’t have been shocking per se. They just different in in a lot of ways. Yeah, I agree with you. It really depends on…

per se = por si só, intrinsicamente
– I don’t think this is a big problem per se. I think it’s more of a challenge.


Yeah, maybe I take issue with the word “shock” because it seems like it holds, like, negative cultural connotations and it’s not always… like I remember having culture shock when I traveled in Southeast Asia and, like, China and Thailand because everything was so different. But I wasn’t like, “Oh my God, I’m, like, shocked; like, scared. It’s just, like, ‘ooh, crazy’”.


I agree, because shock does have a bit of a negative connotation to it. It should be like “culture awe” or “reverse culture awe”, like you are “in awe of everything”, like “amazement of everything that’s going on”. I like that, Foster, I agree.

to be in awe of something = ter um sentimento de admiração, respeito, e reverência sobre algo ou alguém
– The first time I saw the ocean, I was in awe of the size of it.


Anyways, we are both language teachers, so we are allowed to be picky with our words.

to be picky = ser “enjoado” com algo, ser excessivamente difícil para escolher
– My child is a very picky eater. It’s hard to cook for her.


I agree.


Jackie, what is your definition of “reverse culture shock” or how do you explain that?


Yeah. So, “reverse culture shock” is when you go back to your home country and you see things in a completely different way because of what you just experienced. So, to me, it’s just like you actually view your own culture almost as a foreigner in some ways. So rather than just being part of it, “this is normal. This is all I know”. You come back and you see your own family and friends as being cultural beings and having their own cultural customs and habits that you never really noticed before. So at least that’s how it was in my experience. What would you say, Foster?


No, I think it… I’m working with the same definition. And, for me, reverse culture shock has always been more difficult than the initial shock of arriving to a foreign country, because, like you said – the analogy that’s coming to me is, for example, when I started teaching English, I learned so many things about my native language that I had no idea. And it’s kind of the same feeling when you come back home, like you have an outsider’s view of something that you used to be only an insider.

an outsider = uma pessoa “de fora”
– He isn’t an outsider; he’s been with us for years.


Yeah. And maybe you even empathize more with foreigners adapting to your culture. You actually… you feel like you can truly put yourself in their shoes because you’re kind of going through it at the same time. But it is a weird feeling. It’s weird because sometimes you feel like no one understands you because you have this, like, double life. You had all these experiences with all these other people in…in these other places, and they’re two very separate worlds. So sometimes it can feel a little bit, like, isolating. Yeah, I don’t know.

to put yourself in someone else’s shoes = lit. “colocar-se dentro dos sapatos de outra pessoa”, expressa “colocar-se no lugar de alguém”
– I know you are angry about this mistake, but please, put yourself in my shoes. I’ve been working for ten hours without a break, and two of my team members are on vacation.


It is. I mean, I think, international travel, you’re living in a foreign country for extended periods of time. It is not for the faint of heart because it really changes you. I think that’s the most difficult thing about reverse culture shock. I mean; naturally, there are, like, funny things that we can – certainly, we will talk about. But the most fundamental change for me is you leave your home country. You travel. You are immersed in a new culture and a new environment. And that changes you as a person. And then you come back and everyone kind of expects you to be the same.

faint of heart = “fraco de coração”; geralmente está junto com “not for the faint of heart” para a expressão “não é para os fracos de coração”
– This amusement park has a lot of big roller coasters – they’re not for the faint of heart!


Yeah. Or people will be like, “Oh, you changed!” as, like, as if that’s an insult! And I think: “Right?”


You changed; you’re progressing.


We should all change. We should all – exactly; we should all progress and grow and evolve. But, Foster, you mentioned that you are preparing yourself to go back to North Carolina in about a month. So what does this preparing look like? Is there anything specific that you do, like, mentally, before you go?


Yeah, honestly, it is… It’s more emotional preparation – more than anything else, because at least nowadays, every time I return to the US, I’m almost always visiting family or close friends. So it’s always really close to home. Like, this time I’m going to be the best man in my best friend’s wedding.

the best man = lit. “o melhor homem”, em um casamento é a posição para a pessoa mais próxima do noivo, geralmente o melhor amigo, que é geralmente responsável por ajudar ele e cuidar das alianças
– Marco, would you be my best man at my wedding?


How cool!


And I’m going to see my 98-year-old grandmother and my six-month-old nephew. So I kind of have to plan preemptively, like; okay, these are all these ways I’ve changed, and I want to show that to my family and I want to, you know, express who I am, like, as fully and completely and truthfully as possible. But at the same time, I’m only going to be there for a few weeks, and I got a lot of people to see, a lot of stuff to do. So I kind of have to pick and choose my battles.

preemptive = antecipado, algo feito antes de outras pessoas agirem ou de uma situação acontecer, principalmente para impedir que essa outra pessoa faça algo, ou que a situação aconteça e desencadeie as suas consequências
– The government is taking preemptive measures against inflation.

preemptively = de maneira antecipada
– I think we should act preemptively; that way, we can prevent problems before they happen.




Does that make sense?


Absolutely. And I’m just curious; have you ever gone back to South Carolina or anywhere in the States and done things that you picked up while in Brazil or while in Portugal? I mean, I think that’s… that’s always exciting. So can you give some specific examples?


Yeah, for sure. The first thing I notice is that my English changes. So I will use a lot of Portuguese phrasing in English. Like, the first one that comes to mind is: I use the word “difficulty” way too often in English. Like, I want to say, like, “Eu tenho dificuldades”. And so I will speak to my mom and say, like, “Mom, I’m having difficulty with, like, opening this jar of pickles”. And she’s like, “That’s a weird way to say that”.

jar of pickles = um pote de picles; um “jar” é especificamente um pote como de maionese, com tampa de rosca
– I bought a jar of mayonnaise yesterday.


Yes. That’s so formal!


Instead of “I can’t open this jar of pickles”.


Yeah. Or “I’m having a hard time”, I think would probably be the more, like, informal, colloquial way of saying “I’m having difficulties”.


Yeah. So I do a lot of that, like just speaking English in a weird way. And I also have a lot of quick responses. Like, if someone says something to me and I don’t understand, a lot of times the first thing that comes out of my mouth is, like, “O quê? O que que é?”. And then, like, my mom’s just looking at me like, “What were those sounds that just left your mouth?”


Yes, I do the same thing with, like, “Nossa!” or, like, “né?” Yeah, those little, like, fillers or, like, the quick responses, we already have them on, like, “autopilot” to respond in Portuguese. So it’s kind of your automatic go-to phrase. Perfect examples.


So I think most of mine are linguistic. I was asking Alexia about this, and she says she always has to prepare herself, like, to be less “touchy”. Like, Brazilians are quite physical in general. Like, they love to give hugs and “beijinhos” and all of that.




And in the US less so. I don’t know. How about yourself, Jackie? Do you run into these kind of silly, little weird things that we tend to do?


Oh, 100%. Like 100% everything you said. Especially when I was living in Brazil, there was a few times where I was like, “Does this sound normal in English?” And I think when we are teaching students all the time, too, our radar is a little off, because we hear sentences that they say, and after you hear it a million times, that doesn’t necessarily sound wrong. And also because you’re not exposed to English as much as you were while living in the States, it’s harder to… to know, like, is it weird to say “I’m having difficulties or not?” I don’t know. We kind of question.


Even more so like our jobs as English teachers. I think we unconsciously – or consciously  speak in a way that we know will be easier to understand. Right. So we’re not speaking, like, drastically differently, but we’re choosing our words wisely. And when I when I’m home, speaking with my friends, and they’re using, like, the same slang and speed that we used in high school and university, when I’m speaking relatively, like, in a formal manner. You can really see the… the contrast, the juxtaposition.

wise = sábio
– My mother is a very wise woman.

wisely = sabiamente
– Kara wisely decided to not buy that expensive house.


Yeah. And I’m glad you mentioned, like, slang, because it changes so quickly. And, like, slang expressions that were popular, you know, ten, 15 years ago. Like, now what I hear my children saying, I’m like, “What?”


Can you give me one example?


So they used the word “flexing”, which means, like, “showing off”. And I didn’t understand it; because we were at the pool. And my son, Gabriel, he was, like, “Oh, my friend is eating Pringles, and he keeps flexing”. And I’m like, “What, flexing? Like, Is he, like showing off his biceps? Like, what do you mean?” He’s like, “No, he’s flexing. He’s… he’s flexing his Pringles”. Like, what? And it’s basically he… he’s, like, showing off that he has something that Gabriel doesn’t have. And it’s a lot of, like, “noob”, like “a newbie”. It’s like a lot of, like, almost, like, video game language that is, like, infiltrating their slang. But there’s times they say, things – “Oh, he’s, yeah, sick”. But that was one that we used. But even when we were in Brazil, he was like, “Oh, that’s sick”. I was like, “Wait a minute! Like, how old are you?”

to show off = se exibir
– Carmello is so annoying, he’s always showing off what a great soccer player he is.

newbie = novato, alguém que não tem experiência nenhuma com algo que está começando fazer
– Hey, I’m not a newbie! I know what I’m doing with this!


I don’t know if you have strong opinions in one way or the other. I know a lot of people… I feel like most generations always say that the upcoming generation is destroying the language. And… but I absolutely love it. I think it’s hilarious. And I have, like, I had no idea what “flexing” means.


I know. Well, what’s interesting is if you, like – I love watching those, like, historical Netflix series and you can just see, I mean, how much language has changed over time. If you watch, like, a seventies sitcom, the language is different than what we use today. I mean, not drastically different, but, you know, things… things change over time. And… and us being unhappy about it probably isn’t going to change much. But it is… it is very interesting. I think that’s… it kind of keeps us on our toes and there’s always more to learn. And it also shows people, just like your accent, you know; the language that you use tells people a lot about who you are. If you use a lot of slang or if you use a lot of profanity, for example, versus a more formal, more polished English, you know, that’s kind of giving people an impression of what type of person you are. So it’s very cool.


Honestly, I think that’s one of the most underrated parts of language – is, like, your accent and the words you… you tend to use. That’s really your… it’s like the equivalent of your fingerprint; like, it’s your linguistic fingerprint. People can learn so much about you just by the way you speak.


Yes. And I found this to be very challenging when I was trying to get to know my husband, for example, and I didn’t speak his language, or other friends. Like, when you meet another American – we’ll say another person who speaks English – in about an hour or less time conversing with this person, you can get a general idea of, like, what type of person this person is; you know where they’re from, you know if they’re really funny or not, formal, informal. But when there’s a language barrier, it takes much, much longer and the jokes don’t translate the same. It’s… yeah, it’s a… it’s a challenge, for sure.


Yeah, absolutely. My apologies. I was just… I was, like… the construction started getting worse. So I was pushing my mic back further in my closet.

my apologies = maneira formal de dizer “meus pedidos de desculpas”
– Oh! I forgot your documents! My apologies!


No worries at all. No worries at all. Can you think of anything, like, between you and Alexia? Like, when you guys first started dating, did you ever feel, like, like… I’ll just give myself, I guess, and use myself as an example, but I know there was a period of time where I questioned like, “Does he really know me? Does my husband really know me? Because we come from these different worlds and speak… I’m trying to speak his language, but I don’t speak it very well. Like, how can he truly, like, know who I am without all those subtleties in our own language?”

subtleties = sutilezas
– It can be very challenging to pick up all the subtleties of a new language; it takes a lot of time and exposure to it!


I 100% relate to that. And I don’t know when it shifted. But, like, in the first, probably, couple of years of our relationship, I definitely had that thought in the back of my mind, like, “Will she ever truly be able to know, like, the depths of what I’m trying to say that I can’t articulate in Portuguese?” But now it’s reached the point where, like, we code switch all of the time.

depths = profundezas
– There are many interesting creatures living in the depths of the ocean.




So, Alexia says stuff in English and I say stuff in Portuguese and it doesn’t really have any rhyme or reason. So now I think we really have a language of our own that we can understand better than we ever could have understood with just English or Portuguese.

rhyme or reason = lit. “rima ou razão”, expressão que significa “explicação lógica”
– The plants seemed okay, but then, with no rhyme or reason, they started to die. I have no idea what happened.


Yeah. And I think it’s… I’m glad you mentioned code switching. So, for people who don’t know what code switching is, what is it, Foster?


Essentially, just switching between languages. So, but in general, like, relatively rapidly. So, for example, when Alexia and I are talking – let me try to think of a good example. Alexia loves to use the word “quentinha”, like for “comfy and cozy”. And so she will say something like, “Like, can you get the blanket? I want to be quentinha”.

comfy = maneira informal de dizer “comfortable”, que significa “confortável”
– This new blanket is so comfy! I love it!

cozy = aconchegante ou aconchegada
– We stayed at a small hotel in Portugal, and it was modest, but very cozy.




Yeah. And I’m like, “Tá bom. Sim, I’ll go grab it.”


Okay. Just, like, going back and forth. Yeah. And it is funny, I’ve seen that actually in quite a few couples or even in kids, I see my kids doing that more. My husband and I, we speak almost 100% in Portuguese, but I think that’s just because our relationship started like that and it’s… we’ve just continued it that way. But he does speak English.


So this was kind of, I think like a really beautiful thing about Alexia and about our relationship is when we met, we essentially had almost equal levels of language ability. So I spoke Portuguese relatively well, but not great. Her English was probably better than my Portuguese, but it made sense for us to switch back and forth and help each other. But I know a lot of couples that… that just don’t have that opportunity because one person is fluent and the other person doesn’t know anything.




I don’t know. I’m curious how that looks in the intimacies of your marriage.


Well, starting out, it was very frustrating for me! Fighting in another language is – you’re always at the disadvantage!


Yeah, I always fight in English, and Alexia in Portuguese.


”Oh, why don’t you understand English? And I could just say what I want!” But no, it was… It was a challenge for sure at the beginning. But, also, I was living in Brazil, so that was a little bit of the priority for me to learn Portuguese. And he does speak English. His English is great, but we just kind of created that habit and we’ve been together now for, like, 12 years. So it’s almost, you know, once you kind of cement in, like, “This is the language we speak in”, it’s almost weird to… to change it. So…


That’s so interesting.




It is. We never… I mean, like when we’re in Portugal or Brazil, we probably speak more Portuguese. And when we’re in the US, we probably speak a little more English, but we don’t have one that we speak in.


Okay, very cool! So, Foster, let’s go back really quick to when we go back to our own countries and how sometimes we have picked up some cultural habits and we don’t even notice it, usually until we are back in the motherland, back in our home country, because we do things and all of a sudden it’s strange, it’s different, it’s weird. And I can give one specific example; I was at a restaurant in Chicago and the waiter came and he, like, asked us if we needed anything more. And I did the, like, that “tongue click” and, like, the finger wag. And then I immediately caught myself. I was, like, “Oh, shoot, that’s probably kind of rude to do here”. Like, I can’t do that. It’s not like a simple gesture that means like, “No, no, I’m okay”. But it was, you know, just like you mentioned, like, those automatic responses and filler words, it’s… it becomes almost subconscious that we don’t even realize, like, “Oh, I’m back in the States. I have to use different gestures even”.

tongue = língua
– Ouch! I think I bit my tongue.

tongue click = um barulho de “clique” feito com a língua
– The mother showed that she was irritated with the results by clicking her tongue.

to wag = fazer um movimento de vai-e-vem com o dedo, ou o movimento da cauda de um cão
– The dog happily wagged his tail when his owner arrived home.

shoot = aqui, é uma maneira bem educada de dizer algo como “droga!”
– “Did you remember to pick up the kids at school?” “Oh, shoot! I forgot!”


Yeah. I remember… I believe it was the first time Alexia was meeting my family and she gave my mom a very strong finger wag like, “No, no, no, that’s not what I mean”. But it… to the American eye, it looked like “Nuh-uh!” I was, like, “Oh, I’m going to have to intervene here”.

nuh-uh = uma forma enfatizada de dizer “não”, algo como “nanani-nanão!”
– “Hey, mom, I’m going out!” “What? Nuh-uh, it’s almost midnight, you’re not going anywhere! ”


Yeah, like, “naughty”!

naughty = “mau” no sentido de “que faz coisa errada” ou “que apronta”
– My son was a very naughty boy yesterday! He fought with his brother, ate cookies when he shouldn’t, and didn’t do his homework.


Right. Because that, like, with the finger wag is like “tisk, tisk, tisk”, like “naughty boy, naughty girl”. You can’t do that. So it just has a completely different meaning than just a simple, like, “No, thank you. I’m all right”.


Yeah. So, I guess to… to wrap up the episode, Jackie, do you have… I don’t know what kind of recommendations, or… because reverse culture shock, it’s a very… it’s a very real thing, but it’s a difficult thing to prepare for and it’s quite a specific thing. Um, so I don’t know. What would you like to leave our audience with today?


Yeah, I guess if people are listening that have not experienced it yet, it is helpful to know that this does exist and you are not alone. If you do feel some weird feelings after being abroad and coming back to your home country, I think that’s comforting. And then again, I would take it… kind of like, we approach culture shock is just be curious about it, notice it, try to maybe even just make light, laugh about the things that you do. And… and to me, what has been, like, the biggest lesson and… and a lot of it is how influenced we are by our environments. You know, we can move and live in all these different places and our environment really does influence us a lot.


It’s insane. That’s such a good point.


Yeah. And just be aware of it. And just like, you know, the people that you’re meeting up with, they are also influenced by their environment. It’s not good or bad. It’s just, again, just being aware, being curious and just like, “Oh, look at that. I did the… the finger wag again and I didn’t even notice it” or “I said ‘application’ instead of ‘app’ because I never heard someone use this word in this country”.


And I think even if you’re not, like, if you’re not currently abroad or you’ve never traveled abroad, you can even kind of run the thought experiment of, like, “Okay, let’s just imagine for a second that I am not from here. I’m not from São Paulo or wherever you may be from. Let’s just imagine I’m from somewhere else. I’m from India”. And try to see your own culture through the eyes of a foreigner, through the eyes of someone that knows nothing about that culture. And you’ll start recognizing things, seeing things from different perspectives. I think it’s a really useful… Yeah. Use your imagination – super useful tool.


I love that. That’s a very good idea. It’s, like, a humbling experience, too, because you put yourself in another person’s shoes when you do that. Kind of look at everything with… with foreign eyes. Very good. Awesome, Foster! Well, thanks for this great conversation. And I’m excited to hear about how your experience goes when you go back to South Carolina and participate in the wedding and see your family. I’m sure a lot of insights will come through.


Yeah, I will let you know. I don’t know if that will be in the next episode or maybe next season.




But whenever I get back, I will definitely tell you how it went.


Awesome. All right. Thanks, Foster. Have a great day, everyone.


Thank you, Jackie. Bye bye.



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