Re-Entry / Reverse Culture Shock
Most students expect to go through culture adjustment after arriving at their program site, but few prepare themselves for the shock that comes with returning home. For many students re-entry (returning to their home country) is as challenging as adjusting to the culture when they first arrived their host country.
Reverse culture shock should not be feared. Take advantage of this opportunity to learn more about yourself as you adjust to being home. Remember, you already proved that you are capable of adjusting to a new culture and country. You are more than capable of doing it again.
Symptoms of Reverse Culture Shock
Upon returning home, you may experience confusing emotions or feel distant from family, friends, and peers. Articulating your experiences abroad, and how they changed who you are, can be extremely difficult. Although you probably kept in touch with family and friends while abroad, they might not fully appreciate, understand, or want to hear about your life abroad. Their disinterest could contribute to a sense of disconnection and isolation. It might also be difficult to merge the life you lived abroad and the one you're returning to.
These feelings might present themselves in various ways:
- Change in values, goals, priorities, and attitudes
- Feelings of isolation or depression
- Difficulty concentrating
- Reverse Homesickness (missing people and places from abroad)
- Negativity towards your native culture
What is Going On?
If you feel some distance from family and friends, do not worry. It is normal to feel out of place; after all, you just spent an extended period of time abroad forming new relationships and immersing yourself in a new culture (and possibly a new language). You have grown, you are more independent, and some of your worldviews may have changed. If you feel like a stranger at home, it means that you adapted to the culture of your host country during your time abroad. Your host country became another home. Congratulations!
Try to readjust to life at home without losing the ideas and values you formed while abroad. It is okay if you are still making sense of your experiences and understanding their full impact. Resist the temptation to return to the "old you" in order to fit others' expectations. Attempt to explain why your views and attitudes changed, but do not expect others to fully understand. Remember, you kept in contact with your family and friends back home, but they only heard about your experiences abroad—they were not personally involved. It may be hard for them to relate.
Do not forget that while abroad you learned to function and even thrive in uncomfortable situations—put this new skill to work.
Suggestions for Handling Re-Entry
If you are experiencing these symptoms, allow yourself time to adjust, relax, and reflect on the experiences you've had. It will take time to be able to show your family and friends how you have changed and also for you to understand the impact this experience has had on your life.
Hopefully you will see new skills and abilities that you developed and enhanced while abroad that will help you in the future. Take note of these accomplishments and use them!
Stay Involved on Your Campus, in Your Community, and with USAC
- Take advanced language courses and look for opportunities to practice your language skills.
- Seek out coursework, employment, and volunteer opportunities that build on what you learned abroad.
- Connect with peers and friends from abroad as well as the overseas staff at your program site on USAC's alumni LinkedIn Group
- Get involved with groups and activities on campus or in the community giving you the chance to meet other study abroad alumni, international students, and others in your community with an international background. If you campus does not have a study abroad club organize one.
- Apply your new skills and continue to explore your own culture as well as other cultures.
- Stay connected with people you met abroad by organizing a USAC Alumni Group.
- Apply for a USAC group grant and organize a reunion with your fellow alumni
- Do you have a storage device full of photos from abroad? Share them with USAC. USAC pays $50/photo for photos if they are selected for print publication with USAC.
- Continue to journal or blog, sketch or take photos, and submit an article to your local or school newspaper, a travel-related publication, or the USAC Blog
- Explore topics, issues, and hobbies you are interested in or became more interested in while abroad
Make Your Experience A Part of Who You Are
Taking a siesta is likely not conducive to your home country's work and school schedule. However, there is undoubtedly some aspect of your host country's culture that you can continue to practice after returning home. It may be as simple as making a traditional meal or celebrating one of your host country's national holidays with family and friends. Watching movies and reading books that involve your host country are also great ways to share and remember your experiences.
If you studied abroad in a non-English speaking country, try to use that language as much as possible. Read books and newspapers, continue to take language courses, and seek out native speakers in your area. You will find that this helps you maintain a connection to your host country and your study abroad experience.