• Nancy Mendelson

How do I deal with reverse culture shock?

Updated: May 21



Dear Nancy,


After several years living and working in Colombia, I’m struggling to find my identity professionally now that I’ve returned to the US. Working in the hotel industry isn’t really feasible right now due to the pandemic. Also, after some of the poverty I’ve witnessed in Colombia, I’m just not all that into selling hotel rooms for $500 a night. I’m looking to use all my logistical, events, and sales experience, but more in a fulfilling, maybe NGO or non-profit way. I don't really know how to verbalize what I want to do, but I feel like it must exist or need to create it. Can you help me?

- Back in the USA


Dear Back in the USA,


Sounds to me like culture shock, only in reverse…and that makes perfect sense, so give yourself a break.


Having lived and worked in Medellin myself, albeit many years ago, it took me quite a while to understand, get comfortable with and assimilate into the culture… then readjust when I returned. My experience there really changed my perspective and my values. So, I get that you’re not into selling $500 a night hotel rooms after what you’ve witnessed and that you do not have a clear vision for the future.


It’s only natural to compare the life you left in Colombia with your new reality back here in the States but, take it from me, it’s an exercise in futility and keeps you from moving forward. So, while It’s a real challenge to change this way of thinking, it’s well worth the effort. About two and a half years ago, I relocated from NYC to Massachusetts – three miles from Plymouth Rock – and have been grappling with that culture shock ever since. However, in the process, I realized whether you change countries or states, it’s about getting comfortable with yourself and your new reality. Whoever first said, “wherever you go, there you are” got that right!


To quote the poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, “What lies behind us, and what lies before us, are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” So, be patient with yourself. Whether you stay in hospitality, go NGO, NFP, or create your own business, keep in mind that readjustment is a process of self-discovery… and in the meantime, take comfort from the fact that even having $500 a night hotel rooms to sell means jobs for people who want and need them, and that’s a giant step forward.