Lesson 3: What can you experience when you come back to your own country?

Lesson 3 Chapter 1

Mixed feelings

Every volunteer is faced with the same question when they complete their volunteer work: how was it? Some start off with great enthusiasm telling their stories, while others are simply overwhelmed with the task of how to explain something so personal and powerful to someone who was not even part of the experience. 

Sharing the story about your experience is very important. Telling the story helps volunteers to claim it, to celebrate what was good, to heal from what was painful and to integrate what they learned from it. The response you get as a volunteer when telling your stories has a big influence on your transition back into society. Unfortunately, at times it can feel like people are not interested in your stories. This may cause you to feel pressured to stop speaking about your story over time. Most listeners are interested but they do not necessarily want all the details. Volunteers should try their best not to judge their listeners, not to assume that the listeners do not care or think about your volunteering as important. Most listeners just can not relate to what it is like to volunteer abroad.

After studying the database of more than a hundred former volunteers, it was found that most volunteers experienced mixed feelings when they returned. Common feelings are: 

  • Happiness at seeing their family and friends again. 
  • Eagerness to share their story with people back home
  • Feeling misunderstood
  • Feelings of 'homesickness': strong feelings about missing the close bonds and the warm culture they were in. 
  • That 'Back to reality' feeling. Most volunteers find it hard to cope with the (often) faster rhythm of life back home.
  • Sad feelings without really knowing why
  • Feelings of being lonely

It helps to keep in mind that these feelings are normal and are part of life. If you look at the culture shock model below, you can see that reverse culture shock can give feelings that might be as severe as the initial culture shock. Read the article below the model to get to know more about the different phases of culture shock.

Would you like to know more about (reverse) culture shock?
Click on the icon to open up some more information about it. 


How can you cope with these feelings?

It is good to know you can cope with these feelings in a healthy way. Culture shock is actually about 'transition stress'. Returning to your home country after your volunteer work can cause this 'transition stress'.

The '5-R tool' gives you insight into which areas you might experience a feeling of 'stress' when it comes to culture shock. It makes you aware of your purpose and understand it on a deeper level. Here are some tips of how you can turn these processes into something good when you return home:



Your daily routine will probably change. You have to find a new routine in life. Things like eating healthy food, doing sports, waking up and going to sleep are part of this. Make a daily plan, even when you do not need to go to work or school. Be aware of what works for you. How can you make a routine that fits you well? Which activities give you energy?



People react differently in other cultures. When you are back home, you need to re-familiarize yourself with the way other people communicate: how they may react differently, how you interpret their messages, how you respond and the effect of that communication. 



How people see you and what they expect of you, but also what you expect from yourself, might differ from when you were at your project. For example, people at your project were very open and there was equality in the team and you were treated like one of them. However, when you return home and get a job with a strong hierarchy, you have to be a coworker and for everything you do you have to get permission from your boss. Ask yourself who do you want to be? Make a moodboard or write down who you want to be and what you need to do to achieve that.



When you come back, your relationships with people at home may change. You may also find that the relationships with people at your project have changed. Make a list of all the people that you want to invest in. Or think about ways to meet new people.



When you return to your home country you may be confronted with a lot of things. The way people live, cope with things, their norms and values, their habits, the rhythm of life, the mentality etc. It can make you question a lot of things. Write your thoughts down. Research shows that writing calms the mind. It reduces stress as it helps individuals process their thoughts and emotions, especially when you feel like you can't let go of these feelings.

Keep in mind that you should give yourself time to process everthing. Plan and do things you love and enjoy. It will give you (new) energy!

Next lesson:Upgrade your volunteer experience