Reverse Culture Shock: From Canada To South America & Back

This is a guest post by Brice Peressini from Traveling To Colombia.

I recently experienced the woes of reverse culture shock when returning back home to Canada after eight months of being in South America.  Travel changes us.  This is part of what we love, crave, and search for when traveling. The experiences, places and people that are encountered during travel change our worldview, and in turn make us different people.

Marcello and I chillin’ like villains in Rio.

Being different upon returning home is great. We’ve seen amazing places and cultures, and probably want to share those experiences with our friends back home. We may have even learned an amazing skill that was a life dream. In my case my goal when first arriving in Colombia was to learn Spanish.

A little life motto that Marcello and I share.

When I arrived back home much was familiar and unchanged, however I was not unchanged. I had changed much during my time in Colombia. The people, places, and people of Colombia were entrenched in my spirit.  One of the most evident cases of reverse culture shock was during my first day back in my country’s largest city:

Toronto. I’m not from Toronto.

Much of the rest of Canada gives our largest city a hard time. I think this may have something to do with a second sibling syndrome.  Toronto was a cold welcome back to Canada.

Toronto has a bad name pretty much everywhere in Canada outside of Toronto. I don’t think it’s entirely fair. Toronto’s a dynamic, diverse, and interesting city. There’s much there to excite and explore. It isn’t, however, a very friendly city (unlike most of Canada.)

Coming back from Colombia, where some of the world’s friendliest people live, to a place where the service staff, bus drivers, and many others you encounter are cold was a shocking reality.

Some of Toronto’s amazing graffiti. I also loved the graffiti in Bogota.

My Spanish is far from perfect, but people in Colombia will stop, acknowledge me, and try their best to help me if I have a question. This is definitely not the case in Toronto. I approached a fellow countryman in the subway asking for help with directions.

Not only did this busy “gentleman” not help me, he didn’t even acknowledge my existence. I think I could conduct an experiment in Colombia, attempting to find the same reaction from a Colombian when asking for directions, and die from exhaustion before finding even one experience like this one in Toronto.

A Colombian mega-watt smile during Carnaval de Barranquilla.

As I had mentioned, I was learning Spanish in Colombia. It was an amazing challenge to undertake. Every day I was faced with new situations where I needed to figure out how to communicate what I wanted or needed. It’s these challenges that I miss many days back here in Canada.

Don’ t get me wrong, being able to communicate with the people around me is extremely convenient, but sometimes convenience isn’t very fun. I guess when I responded to a vendor here in my home city of Calgary with “no, gracias” I was just trying to add some dificulty to my life.

Or my brain hasn’t been reprogrammed back to English yet.

The reverse culture shock that we as travels experience upon arrival back in our respective homes is a good thing (even if we respond in the wrong language.) This feeling means that we have changed our viewpoint of the world so drastically, that what used to be left unquestioned in our home country, is now sometimes seen as odd.

If we had not left, these normalcies would be left at just that: normal. Travel’s beautiful. It changes us. It molds us. It forms us. Coming home can be beautiful too; it’s just uncomfortable sometimes.

About Brice

Brice is a protege of the amazingly talented Marcello Arrambide. He is a fellow traveling day trader that had made a home base in Medellin, Colombia, one of Marcello’s favourite cities. Brice also plans on started a new Day Trading Center with Marcello via The Day Trading Academy. He fell so in love with his new home that he started writing about his thoughts on TravelingtoColombia.com  in order to share this amazing country with the world.


  1. Brice, very insightful post. Just imagine the culture shock for immigrants coming from places like Colombia, Chile or any other third world county when they move to the USA? It’s more than just language……it’s values. Common courtesy, respect of people and helping your fellow man is second nature to most people from the third world. They come here, USA, and it’s a rude awakening. I wish more people would realize these things. Life would be so much more pleasant if people would just be nice to each other.

  2. Great post! This same thing happened to me moving to Seattle after spending 2 years in South America…it was sort of a rough transition. It’s awesome, and a very polite city, but is sort of cold as well. My friends all thought I was crazy because I was the only one talking to strangers!

  3. Oh Brice, I kind of understand what you say. I was on an exchange for several time in USA, and while I was there you can’t imagine how much I missed Colombia, not exactly the country and its places, more than that, the Colombians, cause we are all so warm, welcoming and friendly that it amuses me how different we are from North-America. Plus I understand that after being living somewhere out of your home country for so long you gain experience, maturity, and many other things, and as well you get used to certain things that won’t be the same back in Canada. Anyway everything will be back to normal pretty soon so there’s nothing to worry about! Hope you come to Colombia often to visit what you left here though 🙂 Follow me on twitter: @ProcelSimon

  4. Hi Brice, thank you for sharing your experience with reverse culture shock. It’s amazing how “amargados” North Americans can be, considering how much more they have > the rest of the world. I spend time with very poor people every day in El Salvador and they are always kind hearted and generous, despite their hardships. I enjoyed this and will come back and read more.

  5. I think you are right, there is such a thing as “reverse culture shock”.
    What I feel is that whenever I return home, I feel like I’ve lost something (I miss the travel destinations) – as if the travel locations were more like a home than back home. Certainly, a lot more exciting, more enjoyable.

  6. I can’t imagine the reverse culture shock I’ll feel, as I’m due to be in Latin America until later this year … should be interesting to see how I am this time around.

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