Reverse Culture Shock
The Beginning of Something New!
Your return is the beginning of an inevitable transition: merging your new experience into your old life. You have spent several months comparing the culture of your host country to your own culture. It is probably safe to assume that you were introduced to many new ways of life, new perspectives and new routines. If you do not prepare for this, you may find you feel disconnected, isolated and rootless. This is what we call "reverse culture shock" or "re-entry shock."
What is Reverse Culture Shock?
When you return to the US, you may experience some degree of “reverse culture shock” or “re-entry shock”. Although it may not be as significant as the initial culture shock you experience upon going overseas, it can be more upsetting as it is often unexpected. Learn more about reverse culture shock.
Top Ten Immediate Re-entry Challenges
(Dr. Bruce La Brack, School of International Studies, University of the Pacific)
- No one wants to hear
- You can’t explain
- Reverse homesickness
- Relationships have changed
- People see “wrong” changes
- People misunderstand
- Feelings of alienation
- Inability to apply new knowledge and skills
- Loss/compartmentalization of experience
Much like the culture shock that you experience upon arrival in your host country, reverse culture shock has several stages. At first, you may be excited to return home-seeing friends and family members, driving a car instead of walking, and eating your favorite foods. However, this initial euphoria may not last long and you might find yourself feeling out of place in your own culture. Here is when you may experience reverse culture shock. This is the bottom of the curve, and is often the roughest part. Although it may take time, you will begin a gradual adjustment back towards feeling comfortable with where and who you are.
Why is coming home so much harder than I thought?
You probably spent months planning for your time abroad, which helped you mentally prepare to live in a new environment. While abroad, you may have realized how difficult it would be to leave your program, however, it is unlikely that you spent any significant time prepping yourself for the challenges of being home again. After all, shouldn’t this be the easy part?
In reality, you have changed a great deal. You are likely to find that your family and friends have not changed that much since you left. Although they are happy to have you back, and inquire politely about your experiences, they may seem uninterested in listening to the details about your time abroad. Many students are surprised to return home to this lack of interest, understanding and support. You may also find that your interests have expanded while abroad, often differing from those of your friends.
What Next? How do I feel normal again?
Although it takes time, you can use the same tools you learned while abroad to help you cope with this new adjustment. Here are a number of other suggestions.
Talk with people who understand
Keep in touch with people from your program, or your host families abroad. They understand the experiences you went through, and are most likely to have their own trouble adapting back home! Also, come to the Center for International Programs and show us your photos from abroad. We want to hear about your experiences!
Share your experience with others
Volunteer to talk to perspective study abroad students (they will be your best audience!) Write an article for the The Collegian or other publications. Talk to professors in your academic department to find other ways to incorporate your newfound knowledge into your academic experience. Use the Center for International Progrmas as a resource to come up with creative ways to share your experience.
Maintain a healthy diet, including exercise
Take care of yourself physically as well as mentally. Exercise and a healthy diet can help keep your stress levels low.
Maintain your sense of humor!
Remember that being flexible and expecting the unexpected helped you get through the difficult times abroad. The same attitude can help you back home. Reverse culture shock is a transition, and an important learning experience. Use this time to rebuild relationships, interests, and your new worldly self!
Read magazines, newspapers and web-sites from abroad. Get involved with the opportunities on campus. Find a conversation partner to practice your language. Make friends with the international students on campus.
Try new things
If you return to the same place a different person, redefine the place. Take up a new hobby, residence, sport, mode of transport.