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Converse Culture Shock – Unaccustomed to the familiar

10 Dec 2022

When you return from a stint in a remote community, home life can suddenly seem unfamiliar, write CRANAplus Members Ms M Press and Ms R Caine. Most of us recognise culture shock as a condition affecting those heading remote, but what about when your contract is over? This article was reviewed by C Anderson.

My col­league and I have been work­ing togeth­er in remote facil­i­ties for years. Recent­ly, we began trav­el­ling and work­ing in some of the most remote com­mu­ni­ties across our coun­try. Liv­ing our best lives! We struc­ture our con­tracts around fam­i­ly time, to cre­ate and main­tain a work-life bal­ance that had been elud­ing us for sev­er­al years.

Sure, fre­quent­ly trav­el­ling to new loca­tions always pre­sent­ed some unfa­mil­iar­i­ty and unset­tled days whilst we reset­tled and ground­ed – but we knew from expe­ri­ence it would pass. It does.

Duch­sch­er (2018) pro­posed the tran­si­tion­al shock mod­el, osten­si­bly for new grad­u­ate nurs­es as an expe­ri­en­tial time frame span­ning 12 months. This is a phe­nom­e­non we recog­nise as present with each new con­tract (with a much short­er time frame), which rein­forces aware­ness of how impor­tant self-care and self-aware­ness is. 

We are well versed in self-care strate­gies, self-man­age­ment, hit­ting the ground run­ning and tran­si­tion­ing quick­ly into new loca­tions and environments. 

At the end of our con­tracts we always look for­ward to head­ing back to our beloved prop­er­ty and ani­mals, the oppor­tu­ni­ty to recon­nect with fam­i­ly and give loved ones some atten­tion. How­ev­er, what we did not expect to repeat­ed­ly expe­ri­ence was unfa­mil­iar sen­sa­tions in famil­iar environments. 

The sights, sounds, throngs of peo­ple, beep­ing, sirens, fumes, noise. Busyness.

timal­len­pho­to – stock​.adobe​.com

Too many choic­es in the super­mar­kets, fre­net­ic pace, traf­fic. We are not refer­ring to major cities – we live in Australia’s out­back! We are refer­ring to coun­try towns.

Tran­sit­ing through cap­i­tal cities’ air­ports and hotels to get home pos­es a next lev­el sen­so­ry over­load. Over­whelm­ing. An assault to every sense we have. We long for the seren­i­ty of remote. We find our­selves seek­ing trees and grass rather than concrete. 

We seek out cor­ners of air­ports rather than the swarm; we take sev­er­al days of qui­et time once we arrive home to set­tle back into the (now unfa­mil­iar) famil­iar sur­rounds. This then chews into the pre­cious time that we have at home with our loved ones. 

It took us sev­er­al return trips (at the end of con­tracts) to deter­mine that these sen­sa­tions were repli­cat­ed each time, even when we knew that there was a like­li­hood that we would expe­ri­ence them. We spoke with oth­er RANs across the coun­try and deter­mined that our expe­ri­ences were com­mon. In fact, every RAN that we spoke to said they have sim­i­lar (to var­i­ous degrees) tran­si­tions when they re-enter main­stream soci­ety. We call this tran­si­tion con­verse cul­ture shock’.

Cul­ture Shock, broad­ly defined as (Mitha et al 2021, online) the feel­ings of anx­i­ety or dis­com­fort a per­son expe­ri­ences in an unfa­mil­iar social envi­ron­ment” has been long accept­ed, researched, doc­u­ment­ed and strate­gised as a process com­menc­ing upon the arrival and for a peri­od at the begin­ning of a remote place­ment for RANs. 

The rec­om­mend­ed imple­men­ta­tion of self-care strate­gies as prepa­ra­tion, and addi­tion­al­ly the build­ing of indi­vid­ual resilience and reten­tion, is effec­tive for work­ing in remote environments. 

How­ev­er, we con­duct­ed research to no avail to try and bet­ter under­stand the process of con­verse cul­ture shock. 

The clos­est par­al­lel we were able to draw (from lived expe­ri­ence) is that it is sim­i­lar to the rein­te­gra­tion chal­lenges expe­ri­enced by returned ser­vice men and women.

Rafael Ben-Ari – stock​.adobe​.com

There has been exten­sive research con­duct­ed with mil­i­tary and ex-mil­i­tary per­son­nel around the rein­te­gra­tion into civil­ian soci­ety. Roma­niuk & Kidd (2018) dis­cuss key chal­lenges of rein­te­gra­tion into soci­ety post ser­vice, includ­ing dif­fer­ences in cul­tures, expe­ri­enc­ing an iden­ti­ty cri­sis, and dis­con­nect and sep­a­ra­tion from their mil­i­tary community. 

The feel­ings and emo­tions pro­voked even many years after leav­ing the mil­i­tary are very sim­i­lar to those when return­ing from remote con­tracts as there are many par­al­lels includ­ing the struc­ture of remote liv­ing; the rich, strong sense of com­mu­ni­ty, belong­ing and con­nec­tion to peo­ple and coun­try; and, most impor­tant­ly, a sin­gu­lar but shared purpose. 

Return­ing home’ doesn’t feel as wel­come and famil­iar any­more. Return­ing to our reg­u­lar’ lives does not appear to be as sim­ple as it seems. 

This tran­si­tion eats into our pre­cious time with fam­i­ly and recov­ery between con­tracts, which is an impor­tant step to enable us to con­tin­ue to pro­vide excep­tion­al care to those most vul­ner­a­ble whilst main­tain­ing a healthy work life balance.

Thank­ful­ly, the self-care strate­gies pro­mot­ed by CRANAplus work for us just as effec­tive­ly when leav­ing remote com­mu­ni­ties and rein­te­grat­ing into our famil­iar lives as they do when we arrive at remote com­mu­ni­ties. Thank you CRANAplus!

Click here to access men­tal health and well­be­ing sup­port and resources through CRANAplus. 


Duch­sch­er, J. (2018). Stages of Tran­si­tion and Tran­si­tion­al Shock. Jour­nal for Nurs­es in Pro­fes­sion­al Devel­op­ment, 34(4). 228 – 232. DOI 10.1097/NND.0000000000000461

Mitha, K., Say­eed, S. A., & Lopez, M. (2021). Resilien­cy, Stress, and Cul­ture Shock: Find­ings from a Glob­al Health Ser­vice Part­ner­ship Edu­ca­tor Cohort. Annals of glob­al health, 87(1), 120. https://​doi​.org/​10​.​5334​/​a​ogh.3

Roma­niuk, M., & Kidd, C. (2018). The Psy­cho­log­i­cal Adjust­ment Expe­ri­ences of Rein­te­gra­tion Fol­low­ing Dis­charge from Mil­i­tary Ser­vice: A Sys­temic Review. Jour­nal of Mil­i­tary and Vet­er­ans Health, 29(2), 60 – 73.