Leaving Taipei and Taiwan Behind: The Shock of Reverse Culture Shock

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I had full blown reverse culture shock when I moved home from Taipei.  I’m talking sleepless nights, forgetfulness as to how to operate a vehicle, the feeling that nobody cared I was back, the whole shebang. Yes, I just said “shebang”.

The only thing is, I had no idea what reverse culture shock even was before returning home.  Why would it be odd for me to return to the place I grew up, definitely understood the culture, and already had a built-in network of friends and family?When moving abroad, one naturally worries about culture shock.  It’s obvious to think about the task of acclimating when arriving in a new country, especially if you’re like me and decided to move to said new country having never visited it.  It’s like learning a whole new way of living life.

I thought the first few days in Taipei were among the most taxing of my life at the time.  I was on a 24/7 translation bender, which is surprisingly exhausting.  I even spent a full hour in the grocery store my first time in (Welcome market in Taipei, at the end of Wen-Zhou street where I lived) and emerged with only 3 items: ramen noodles, dumplings, and merlot (wine is universal, my friends).

I’ll be honest. I broke down and cried a few times the first few weeks.  I felt overwhelmed.


Can I just hide today?

I didn’t set out on the journey expecting that any leg of it would be easy.  I didn’t want it to be easy, either.  The rewarding things in life seldom are.  I figured once I got used to Taipei, I had made it through the toughest part. 

But why did nobody warn me about reverse culture shock?

When I moved back home, it seemed as though nobody really, oh I don’t know, cared.   I half-expected my friends to drop everything to see me like they did before I left, but it didn’t go that way.  I learned a painful lesson back then, that I would have learned eventually anyway, about who was really a friend, and who was nothing more than an acquaintance.

My real friends would be curious about the adventure, they’d ask how the “trip” was, and then slip into a comatose state five minutes into my story. They weren’t really interested in the details.

I felt like everything was so different.



The oddest thing about all of this is that nothing back home really changed much while I was away.  Everything carried on just the way it did back when I was still a part of it.   It seemed so wildly different and difficult to me because it was I who had transformed. 

I didn’t realize it at the time, but the moment I moved abroad was a turning point in my life.  It was an event in which I was one person going in, and a completely changed person coming out.   My old life ended the moment I stepped on that plane leaving LAX, and my new life began the moment I stepped off of it and into the sticky Taipei evening.

Even now, thought it’s been over three years since I left Taipei, sometimes triggers make me yearn for that life.  Every time I get in my car and someone cuts me off and we show our mutual displeasure by flipping the bird, I think to myself, people were nicer in Taipei. Every time Lunar New Year rolls around, I think about the lantern festival, and I deeply miss my night-time walks, which I can’t safely take around here – I miss living somewhere safe.  I also miss going to the doctor and paying only $12, without insurance, to see her.  I miss the truly amazing food, and the unique mixture of East and West.  Heck, I even miss the honest people who returned my lost iPhone to me (before it had even been released in Asia) after I accidentally left it at 7-11.   Gosh, that would NEVER (ever, ever, ever!) happen here.

Don’t get me wrong, Southern California is amazing, as evidenced by the amount of people who live and vacation here.  Moving home had its perks.  For the first time in 8 months, I was able to walk into a store and speak English, and be fully understood.   I was finally back with my family, whom I had missed.  I was able to buy all of the food and beauty products that I had been missing,  there were no longer mosquitoes torturing me, and the weather was truly a significant improvement.


Home, sweet home?

But, if I’m honest, I yearn to take off and move abroad again almost every day.  I ask myself if the grass is just always going to be greener somewhere I’m not.  This could certainly be the problem.  Either way, I’ve been struck with wanderlust and I can’t shake it.  There’s something so beautiful about being somewhere completely new, where nobody knows you and yesterday and tomorrow don’t matter.

I wish there was a way to travel the world and still put something away into a 401k.  So, for now, the nagging need to be financially secure has kept me sedentary.

But you know what? Writing about it always makes me feel better and reminds me of the best times I had over there.  Visiting old friends I met abroad and reminiscing about our time together takes me back in such a deliciously giddy way.   We always ask each other, will you go back?  Some of us have, and some of us only flirt with the idea.   Either way, we’ve all been changed.

What about you??

This guest blog is by Ava Apollo.

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