Re-Entry / Reverse Culture Shock
Most of you can expect to go through culture shock on one level or another upon arrival at your program site, but few prepare themselves for the shock of returning home. Students are often not aware that reverse culture shock can be just as trying as the initial feeling you experienced in your host country; perhaps even more so because it is unexpected.
Don’t forget that the process of re-assimilating to your home country is a valuable learning experience, just as was the process of adjusting to living in a foreign country. Take advantage of this opportunity to learn more about yourself and your beliefs as you re-adapt to your home environment. Consider joining a local international club or organization, volunteering at your campus’ international or study abroad office, or having a language partner. Get involved.
Upon returning home you may experience confusing reactions or feel distant from family, friends, and peers. While you probably kept in contact via phone or email, your family and friends have only heard about your experiences abroad and were not personally involved. They were not able to share in your life there firsthand, which may make it harder for them to understand the full impact of those events. You may not have entirely made sense of the full impact of those events either. That may contribute to a sense of disconnection or inability to articulate all that happened while you were gone and how you have been changed by this rich and exciting time.
Family and friends views may not appear or feel very accommodating to the "new you." You may not feel particularly at home in what used to 0be very familiar surroundings. It can be difficult to resist the temptation to return to the "old you" to fit others’ expectations. Attempt to share why you have changed your views and attitudes by explaining adventures you have had. Try to readjust to life at home without losing the ideas and values that you formed while abroad.
Symptoms of reverse culture shock can include:
- Confusion, uncertainty
- 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
If you are experiencing these symptoms, allow yourself time. Just as it took time to become accustomed to your new environment while studying abroad, adapting to your life back home will take some time as well. Give yourself time to relax, adjust and reflect on the experiences you have had, as well as to adjust to your current environment.
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. One new skill you likely learned while abroad is to be able to function and thrive even when uncomfortable or in the midst of big transitions—here is an opportunity to put that new skill to work!
Dealing with Re-entry
Taking the time to reflect on all the ways you’ve grown and changed while abroad is worth the effort. You will hopefully be able to see new skills and abilities that you developed/enhanced while abroad that will help you in the future. Take note of these accomplishments and use them. Reminisce about the person you once were and how you’ve changed during your time abroad. You’ll be surprised in all of the great new ways that have shaped you into a more mature and integral individual. It’s important to understand that others, like family members and friends, may expect you to be the same person as you were before you left. As you adapt back into your culture, grant others the time necessary for them to adapt to the new you. Being able to identify those specific aspects of the “new you” will help in dealing with the transition of re-entry, and position you to better understand your goals and dreams for what is next for you.
You may want to consider these additional tips:
- Understand that most students who study abroad do experience some degree of reverse culture shock; you are not alone
- Continue to journal or blog, sketch or take photographs, submit an article to your local or school newspaper or travel-related publications
- Get involved in the local community, with family, friends, neighbors and/or roommates
- Explore topics, issues, and hobbies you are interested in or became more interested in while abroad
Even if you feel like you are at a loss of what to do next, or how to deal with what you are experiencing, taking action—any action—will help. Some universities offer workshops to help students integrate their recent study abroad experience with their continued life and studies. Check with your home university to find out about any services they offer for recent returnees from international programs. Workshops, meetings, or international clubs will not only be helpful from an academic re-entry point of view but will also provide the opportunity to meet and befriend other students who have studied abroad as well as international students.
Conversing with and learning from other study abroad participants is an important part of the re-entry process that can greatly reduce the frustrations returning participants often experience. If your university does not offer workshops or functions for study abroad participants, take the initiative! Arrange functions with other past participants through any clubs or organizations created for study abroad alumni or participate in events sponsored by the on-campus international office.
- Most colleges and universities have sessions where past participants can share their experiences with students who are considering attending a study abroad program. This is a great forum to share stories with students who are certain to be interested.
- Consider taking advanced language courses or joining language clubs to retain and develop any languages learned while abroad. In addition, ask about opportunities to practice your language skills with foreign students.
- Seek foreign cultural gatherings that take place in your community. You may be surprised at the number of activities sponsored by or related to your study abroad country.
- Specific clubs or organizations affiliated with study abroad programs or international relations may be active on-campus as well as in your local community. Programs that work with community development or outreach are excellent ways to contribute to international awareness and education.
- If you learned a new language, try to find opportunities to practice your language skills
- Seek out coursework, employment, and/or volunteer opportunities that build upon what you learned abroad
- Get involved on your campus with study abroad and international students: talk to students who have gone abroad and those going abroad about your experience, volunteer at study abroad fairs, or serve as an English conversation partner for an international student
- Apply your new skills to exploring and understanding your own culture
- Stay connected with the people you met when studying abroad via phone calls, emails or Facebook