Arts & Culture The Norm Breakers Issue

Oman sweet Oman? Coping with reverse culture shock

I sometimes wonder what’s worse: culture shock or reverse culture shock.

As I taped the last box in my now empty London flat, I experienced a flashback to the day I first moved back to my home country of Oman after completing my bachelor’s degree. The Arabian heat slapped me like a reality check of what was waiting ahead.

Illustration by Umayma Al Hinai

This may sound dramatic, and it is probably not as bad as I make it sound, but once you taste the bitter sweetness of depending on yourself for everything, there is no going back.

I sometimes wonder what’s worse: culture shock or reverse culture shock.

Culture shock is the term used to describe the disorientation associated with experiencing a new culture different from the one to which you are accustomed, and reverse culture shock is the disorientation experienced when returning to your original culture after spending some time away from it.

Whether it is the initial culture shock or the reverse, you will most likely go through four stages: honeymoon, frustration, adjustment and acceptance. I have lived a total of five years in the UK for my higher education; four years in Leeds for my undergraduate degree and a year in London for my master’s degree. It has been eight months since I have been permanently back to Oman, and I am just starting to transition to the third stage.

Stage 1- The Honeymoon

Illustration by Umayma Al Hinai

This is when you are most excited about going back. It is all about returning to the things that had made you feel homesick:  your family, friends and, most importantly, the delicious homemade food. Everything about going back is as rosy as you would expect a honeymoon phase to be. I had a perfect image of how things were going to unfold. Everything back home seemed exciting, from driving my car to catching up with friends. But just two weeks in, the frustration hit.

Stage 2- Frustration

Illustration by Umayma Al Hinai

The frustration hit when I realised just how much of a struggle speaking Arabic, my mother tongue, had become after spending years in an English-speaking country. I would not be surprised if fellow Omanis judged me for having difficulty with constructing a full sentence in Arabic without throwing in English words.

But perhaps the frustration hit the hardest when I realised that my time no longer revolves around me. Living in a family-oriented society, I have found it hard to find time for myself. It bothered me that I can no longer stay for hours in my room and that curfews are back again. Being away has also meant that some friends whom I had left behind changed in different ways than I have, so we no longer share similar interests. Thus, I have started to look for new people with whom to hang out.

I found myself longing for my simple London routines, such as making a cup of coffee or loading the dishwasher, which I do not get to do any more because we have help with that. I miss London’s underground and the languages I could hear and not understand. I miss how most things are a walking distance, and I definitely do not miss what summer in the Arabian Gulf means.

Stage 3- Adjustment

Illustration by Umayma Al Hinai

Although you look for any opportunity to visit where you lived, you eventually realise that going back will just be for the holidays and that you have to adjust. I knew I was beginning to adjust when three months in, I began to feel increasingly unproductive and started to job hunt. Although finding a job in our current economy is tough enough, my options are also very limited due to the specificity of my field.

As I wait for a job offer, I have learned how to spend time with my family while still having time for myself. I am slowly starting to go back to some of the simple routines of making coffee and dedicating some alone time for reading that my family are aware of. I am learning to enjoy driving, although I greatly miss public transport and all of the potential stories its diverse users can offer a writer such as myself.

Stage 4: Acceptance

Illustration by Umayma Al Hinai

I have to yet to mentally accept my return to Oman. I imagine it will happen once I become employed and find myself working towards my aspirations. I believe that when I finally reach the fourth stage, I will look at the whole coming-back experience from a different perspective: opening so many new doors I did not know existed.

And I find myself still wondering what’s worse: culture shock or reverse culture shock. But when you think about it, you go through the same stages either way at some point in your life.

Maria Al Hinai is storyteller from Oman.