Reverse culture shock and re-entry – a study abroad paradoxIf you’re on your way home from studying abroad, you’ve probably already experienced all of the ups and downs of culture shock. You rode the emotional roller coaster, but in the end, you couldn’t be happier with your time abroad. You make it home and are on cloud nine for a few days before a mysterious feeling of depression comes over you. Unfortunately, it’s not a mystery. It’s a phenomenon known as reverse culture shock, and although it doesn’t affect every returning student, there’s a chance it could get to you.
What is Reverse Culture Shock?
Although reverse culture shock is unique for every student, it will probably rear its ugly head in some form of disorientation, loneliness, frustration, depression, and of course a disconnect between you, your friends and your family. In fact, some people find dealing with reverse culture shock to be more difficult than the culture shock you experienced while studying abroad. Don’t be surprised if you’re quickly longing to hop on a plane and go back.
Studying abroad is a truly eye-opening experience, and as a result, you’ll probably have re-examined or developed new values, priorities, and views about yourself, your home (including the U.S.), and the world in general.
It’s not that you don’t like where you’re from or who you associate with, it’s that you’ve been enlightened in a way that that causes you to question what you otherwise might not have, analyze how you used to live in the past, and critically think about what you want to do in the future. (Sounds cliché, but if you really think about it, it’s true.)
You might even find yourself thinking more philosophically and there’s nothing wrong with that – the world can always use better thinkers.
The Reality of Reverse Culture Shock
If you’re satisfied with your study abroad experience and are leaving with no regrets, you’ll probably be excited and eager to head home. Those first few days back, you’ll no doubt be happy to see your family and friends again. Your parents will cry when they meet you at the airport, you’ll eat your first meal in the States at your favorite restaurant, and probably answer every text that’s been waiting in your phone for the past 4 months.
And then…reality will hit. All of a sudden, people aren’t as interested in your study abroad experience as you thought they’d be. During everyday conversation, you find yourself inserting stories about the time you spent a week in Paris, or road the train across central Europe. People listen for a bit, but inevitably move on to a new subject. You have become that person who thinks they’re cool, sophisticated, and experienced because you went abroad. (Seeing as its true, I usually consider it an indirect compliment!)
So maybe people don’t want to listen to you. At least you’re back in the comfort of home, right? You’ll just get right back into your old routines, and life will be good again. Unfortunately, this probably won’t be the case.
The home life you come back to might fall short of what you had imagined, and truthfully, your friends and family have continued their lives while you were gone – there’s no way around it, it’s just the way it goes. You may even feel like you’re adjusting to a foreign place all over again.
Fear not, my friends, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Eventually you will re-adjust to life at home, things will start to seem a little more normal again, and you will fall back into some sort of a routine. Things will never be exactly the same, but that’s one of the hidden benefits of studying abroad.
It’s probably going to take some work, but integrating your old life with the new beliefs, habits, personal goals and professional aspirations you’ve developed abroad will help you live a more satisfying life in the future!
Some Ways To Deal With Reverse Culture Shock And Re-entry
It’s difficult to totally prevent reverse culture shock, but there are ways to lessen the blow. Keep your friends and family in the loop about your life abroad, and likewise with their lives back home. While you don’t want to rely on contact with people at home to cure “normal” culture shock, a little communication will go a long way to make your transition back home a lot smoother.
We already reached the conclusion that your friends and family might not want to hear your awesome stories about the places you’ve been, the exotic food you’ve eaten, and the interesting people you’ve met. So what are you supposed to do, keep to yourself about one of the best experiences of your life? Of course not. There are plenty of people out there who want to know about your experience!
Writing a Blog
My favorite option (for obvious reasons). Writing a blog is a great way to keep in touch with family and friends, both at home and abroad, and is a place to host your photo albums for everyone to see. It’s a great substitute for a diary or journal, and is always helpful when you feel like taking a stroll down memory lane. To top it off, they’re great resources for answering student’s questions by providing information via experiences of actual students.
Sharing Photos and Videos Online
If you’re like me, you probably have thousands of photos stashed on your computer somewhere. Why not upload them to a site like Flikr, and then share them on Facebook, Twitter, and email? While people might not want to hear about your stories of faraway places, they will almost always want to look at pictures of them.
Volunteering in Your Schools’ Study Abroad Office
There’s a place you’ll always be accepted. Study abroad offices are always recruiting returning students to help promote studying abroad. It probably goes without saying, but you’ll be encouraged to share your stories, pictures, and advice to aspiring study abroad students right from your own school.
Comment in Forums
I can almost guarantee every student has questions before they go abroad. Forums, like College Confidential, provide a place to share your knowledge and answer those questions so other study abroad students can have the same quality experience you did.
The bottom line is that readjustment will be different for everyone. On the whole, though, the more integrated you became in your host country’s culture, the harder it’s going to be. If it’s any consolation, think of it as a confirmation that you did what students are supposed to do when studying abroad: gain a unique perspective on learning and life by assimilating into a culture unlike your own.
If you have any other questions or comments please feel free to leave them below and I’ll get back to you!