Eternal traveler syndrome
síndrome del viajero eterno

Eternal traveler syndrome

Did you know there’s an Eternal Traveler Syndrome or Reverse Culture Shock? I knew about it some time ago and since then it appears in my head from time to time. It is a syndrome that can occur when people who have spent long periods traveling or living in another country return to their place of origin.

A few days ago I was telling you the obvious symptoms that you were Germanizing. Today I tell you about a possible consequence of this Germanization. But be careful, this is not exclusive to those of us who have come to Germany. Anyone who has lived outside his country for a while and returns can suffer it. In fact, if you’ve ever left Erasmus it probably sounds more familiar than you think 😉 .

I have already told you that there are several (Spanish) friends who are willing to come back. Many of them get it. However, my surprise when I speak with them once installed again, is that it is not everything as they had imagined it. I empathize very well with their stories and, between you and me, I have my suspicions that the same thing will not happen to me when the time comes. But what is this syndrome and what causes it?

Eternal traveler syndrome

According to several studies carried out by the writer Corey Heller, this is a feeling of anxiety and strangeness that can be experienced by up to two out of three people who, after living abroad for a long time, decide to return to their country of origin. The challenge is to adapt and pick up the life they left behind. The longer the stay in the foreign country, the more severe this syndrome becomes, and the greater the cultural differences between the country of origin and the host country. What causes it?

Idealization of what was left behind

When I arrived in Germany, I came with a lot of luggage and, above all, a lot of enthusiasm. I was very receptive to learning the language, meeting new people and adapting to a new lifestyle. I was looking forward to a change of scenery and I knew it wouldn’t take much work to get used to my new life.

As time goes by, you realize that in your host country there are also things that don’t work the way they should. Little by little you suffer a process of disappointment and you start to value, sometimes even to idealize, what you left in Spain. This process continues until the moment when you can no longer stand your host country. You don’t like your job anymore, your colleagues are dull and your boss doesn’t value you enough. Moreover, you see that the rent is sky-high and you can’t go to see your family as much as you would like because the flights are very expensive. In the end, you spend the extra pay you get here on airplane tickets.

In Spain there are your friends and family, who will be waiting for you with open arms and a plate of ham in hand. It’s true that the work situation is not optimal yet (or, better said, far from it) but nobody is perfect and in the end, after your experience living abroad, it won’t be so difficult for you to find something to work with “your own”. On top of that, you’ll have time to enjoy that beer in the sun on Thursdays after work.

Little by little, this desire to return becomes the idealization of everything you left there. This helps you to feel less and less like being in that country you were so excited about a few years ago.

You decide to take the step

At last you decide to take the step. You may or may not have found a job in distance. Whether you decide to roll the blanket over your head and come back with nothing, or if you’ve been lucky enough to find a job for your new beginning in your home country, you’re glad to be back. You sell the furniture in your house to the next tenant and you move with the right amount of money. You can’t wait to get back to enjoying the daylight and weekends with your old friends.

Your environment has gone on with its life

The disappointment comes when you come back, you realize that yes, in Spain is sunny many days, (depending on the area in which you live) but you work in an office without a terrace twelve hours a day. Also, your new company is not as cool as you had imagined. Your colleagues are somewhat older than you, married and with children, and it’s not in their plans to go out every Thursday for beers and whatever comes up.

Your old friends don’t live where they did a few years ago. They have married, some even have children, and they don’t have as much free time to make plans on weekends as they used to. You already knew this (it’s not that they married behind your back) in fact, you witnessed the wedding of one of them. But somehow, they are small details that have been passed on to you in your reconstruction of the ideal life that awaited you when you returned.

Now you miss your host country

That’s when you start to look around and you don’t just see the good weather in Spain, your usual friends and family. You start to see that you didn’t live so badly in your host country either. You liked your job better and you had a better chance of changing if things went wrong. You see that the flat where you lived was better conditioned than now, where you have to sleep with a heater on your feet and two blankets on the bed. In addition, you miss the friendships you left there and the mentality of your other country in certain respects. (No, if in the end it’s going to turn out that you even made good friends…).

We’ve gone into a loop

You’ve noticed too, haven’t you? We have returned to the origin, to that yearning to go out and discover the world. To meet new people and try your luck professionally. But now knowing what there is. Having contacts abroad and with a more objective vision of what each site has to offer. In the end the Eternal Traveler’s Syndrome consists of this. You are not completely satisfied in one place or the other. Wherever you are you will miss the other side. You have known the good and the less good from both sides (or many more if you have moved around several countries) and in the end you miss what you don’t have, because let me remind you of one thing, everything in one place cannot be had.

What do we do now?

There is nothing left but to do an exercise of objectivity and value what we have on each side. You can’t have everything in this life. Face it, you have to choose. Everyone does it. Value what makes you happier and make decisions accordingly. Do not idealise one or the other. Think that you are lucky to have been able to live the experience of living a long time in several places. This will help you get to know yourself better and identify what you want first.

Good luck with that!

Did you feel like this before? Did you know there’s an eternal traveler syndrome?

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