Culture shock is defined as the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone who is suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes.
If you’ve ever traveled to another country, you know first-hand what this feels like.
When I first moved from the United States to Thailand, I experienced the culture shock of going from a first-world country to a third-world country. Then, I experienced reverse culture shock in Singapore when I traveled there for New Year’s Eve 2020.
This is my experience dealing with reverse culture shock and how I overcame it.
Singapore. The San Francisco of Southeast Asia, just warmer. Busy streets lined with highrises, shopping centers on every corner; a modern city with futuristic vibes.
I traveled to Singapore because I wanted to spend my NYE 2020 in a place that felt like home. After being in Thailand for eight months, and Bali for eight days, I was ready for a change of scenery.
To my surprise, this change of scenery came as a form of reverse culture shock that I was not expecting.
The big city feels that I was craving ended up being overwhelming. After spending the past year in third-world countries, I was really thrown off by the “first-world-ness” of Singapore.
The paved streets and sidewalks, crosswalks, stoplights, Western stores and expensive restaurants, skyscrapers everywhere, escalators and railway systems connecting the entire country, Western toilets, dryers for your clothes, people walking around in business suits…it was all so different.
Yet this is exactly the type of environment I was born and raised in, the type of environment I was used to, and the type of environment that I was yearning to be back in…so why was it so hard for me to adjust to it?
Mark Manson said it best in one of my favorite books The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: “Comparison is the death of joy”.
I was looking at Singapore through filtered eyes, comparing it to my past experiences, instead of just looking at it for what it was—thus killing the joy that I usually get from traveling to a new country.
I was comfortable with the third-world way-of-life that I had been living for almost an entire year. And just as much as I experienced culture shock when I moved to Thailand, I experienced the same amount of culture shock when I arrived in Singapore, just reversed.
Singapore paradoxically pushed me out of my comfort zone by putting me back in my original comfort zone—and this sudden change was hard for me to cope with.
After my first day of exploring Singapore, I sat down with these thoughts and began writing this blog. Putting my thoughts into words allowed me to realize the resistance I was unconsciously creating to fully embracing this new country.
I scratched out all previous thoughts, assumptions, and expectations I had of Singapore, and began the next day with a fresh, open-minded perspective.
This allowed me to appreciate Singapore for what it was…and I was suddenly, utterly enamored with all it had to offer.
It’s like I was looking at the city through different eyes.
I was amazed by the intricate architecture of the buildings. I was impressed with the organized roads, railway system, and maps all over the city. I was energized by the crowds of people walking through the streets, filling up shopping malls and food centers. I was in awe of the lights of the city that sparkled over Marina Bay. I was amused by the utopian wonders of Sentosa Island.
Every country in this whole wide world of ours is different, unique, and has something special to offer.
Many of us travel to experience these differences, yet culture shock still hits us dead in the face.
As we travel around, it’s important to be mindful of these differences and learn to embrace them, not fear them. It’s imperative to be content with unfamiliar situations, keep an open mind about cultural differences, and hold a positive perspective that allows us to learn from new experiences, not compare them to past ones.
I’m grateful for this moment of reverse culture shock that I experienced in Singapore, and the original culture shock that I experienced in Thailand, because these moments are what help me grow as a traveler and a human of this world.