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Reverse Culture Shock

The three R‘s: Return home, Recovery, Reintegration

rollercoaster ride of life
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Return home Leaving Japan can be filled with mixed emotions. There is the sadness of leaving your friends and the life you have made, and then the excitement to return home to see the people you have missed. Once you land back on home soil it can feel like a blur as you binge on the food you have craved, unpacked everything, and show your family your adorable leaving gifts from your students.

It is also the time when you need to quickly figure out your living situation, perhaps hunt for a car and a job. This is often when reality can start to kick in. You’re no longer regarded as the special foreigner, who had a lot of help to set up their living situation in Japan, and instead you wonder why you can end up feeling like you are being overlooked, especially when job hunting. Make sure you give our previous article about job seeking after JET a squizz if you need some handy tips and reminders about what the JET experience can bring to a job.

Recovery Try to think back to when you first arrived in Japan. It takes a while to settle in, there’s lots of ups and downs, so try to keep that in mind getting settled back into life in NZ takes time. Here are some key points to remember:

  • This is a great chance to talk to your close friends and family about how you’re feeling. Unless they’ve been in the situation of leaving NZ and then moving back home, it can be hard for those around you to realise that you are struggling and that you need that extra support.

  • Reach out to JETAA members, we’ve been through this ourselves so can understand where you are coming from. It’s great to reminisce with people who lived in Japan and remember that day to day Japan life we had.

  • You may also have other friends who left the same year however returned to another country. Keeping in contact is important during this time, it’s nice to know you’re not alone in feeling the way you do.

Reintegration Japan won’t be forgotten, so make it part of your new chapter in NZ! Whether it is finding a job related to Japan, studying Japanese, or something else, you might find some of these ideas helpful:

  • If you had hobbies in Japan, do a quick google search to see what is in your area. Many JETAA Auckland members are part of a local taiko group, either to keep up with their taiko skills they learnt in Japan or as an opportunity to learn the skill as they never got the chance.

  • There is also the NZ Japan Society which holds events or JETAA will post about local events, for example the Japanese Film Festival.

  • You can also check out local Japanese restaurants or shops, even visit with friends to share what may have been your favourite food in Japan. For example, you could take your friends to popular ramen spots around Auckland.

  • Remember to keep in touch with your friends in Japan, whether it’s a video call or a quick message. A great one is sending small care packages back to your home town – lollies can speak louder than words!

Reverse culture shock can appear in many forms. Because of this, a few members of JETAA wrote about their experiences once they returned to NZ.


Name: Anna Placement: Omura, Nagasaki 2017 – 2019

Even though it has now been a year since returning to NZ, I still feel like a recent returnee. I was incredibly sad to leave my friends in Japan, however I knew I needed to get back to NZ.

Once I returned, I struggled how life had carried on for everyone whilst I felt like I had been in a two-year Japan bubble. I felt as though I needed to pick up where I had left off, that I hadn’t advanced in any way meanwhile my peers had. I expected to come back to everyone being interested in my 2 years travelling, however after the first catch ups with some people it felt like the novelty wore off.

I kept wanting to talk about my experiences, however it was difficult. I found talking about this with my close friends helped, and even my friends still in Japan. I also felt extremely overwhelmed with English, as I hadn’t returned to NZ during my time with JET, it was exhausting listening to everything again and being out and realising people can understand you.

To cope, I found I preferred hanging out with my close friends at each other’s houses as this helped with both of my struggles, so I could focus on talking to my friends rather than feeling overwhelmed with my surroundings. It took me about 6 months to feel settled again into NZ life, so don’t expect to feel immediately settled. Appreciate that it takes time, and continue to have the support around you to help.


Name: Kathryn Placement: Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi 2016 – 2019

I’ve been home for over a year now, and I thought I didn’t have any experiences with reverse culture shock… upon reflection, I lied to myself.

I thought leaving Japan would have been a breeze… but I miss the lifestyle, culture, people and most of all the friends who I consider family. Now I’m a lazy kiwi, who walks to the car (lol) from walking everywhere in Japan, to a sedentary lifestyle. It has been an uphill battle + Covid + studying full-time + working + feeling overwhelmed + needing two weeks of nenkyu to rest…

  • I miss silence in public transport

  • Biscuit servings for a 10 year old child

  • The honesty and integrity of Japanese culture and work ethics

  • The people, the food, the language!

  • The cleanliness

  • The way Japan celebrates the change of seasons

I must admit living there changed my life for the better, but returning I’ve let go of all of the positive experiences… I’m going to make conscious life changes, positive steps to bring back the reasons WHY I love Japan and incorporate these things into my life… I go to restaurants to practice my 7/11 Japanese, and also have made friends at uni who are nihon-jin. It’s a small dose of nostalgia… JETAA have also been supportive, connecting me with like-minded people who have a love and passion for Japan.


Name: Whitney Placement: Kami, Hyogo 2011 – 2014

The busyness brought on by moving myself and a limited number of belongings in a suitcase provided distraction from the inevitable reverse culture shock waiting for me on the other side of my JET experience.

It was in everything: the impoliteness of cashiers, the way I didn’t draw much attention to myself by simply being out and about, tipping servers–and bartenders–and hair dressers–and hotel cleaning staff. I was seeing all of the good of Japan with some distance; I was enjoying my view of Mt Fuji from afar and forgetting all of the downsides of being on the mountain.

I had bookmarked a few articles during my time on JET highlighting the foreigner experience (for example, the micro-aggressions of being repeatedly praised for using chopsticks and saying arigatou gozaimasu, and feeling a sense of superiority over new foreigners who “don’t get it yet” and need to be taught). Re-reading those articles mostly out of nostalgia helped when comparing my new life and my old life.

The good news is that I most certainly wasn’t alone. Several JET friends finished their contracts the same time as me, and I made every effort to keep in contact with them regularly. I travelled to meet them in other parts of the country. Doing this was absolutely necessary when reconciling my JET experience with my new life. In the end, making a decision on what came next for me–something that took several months–was what helped me to overcome culture shock and get settled with my post-JET life.


Name: Kimberley Placement: Fukushima Prefecture, Tohoku 2010 – 2014

  • I felt really left behind because everyone I went to uni with had established careers and had really moved on with their lives, and it felt like we had so much less in common now.

  • It was hard having to communicate in English with my family, since I was so used to speaking to my co-workers in Japanese.

  • I missed the festivals and the seasonal events.

  • I miss the healthy active lifestyle I had in Japan, and it was a huge struggle for me to adjust to being a poor student again.


Remember JET is a rollercoaster, from arriving in Japan to then returning home. There will be many ups and downs, but in the end you’ll be able to throw your hands up in the air and enjoy it!


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