When you return to your home country, you may feel slightly disoriented or out of place. The feeling may be similar to what you felt when you arrived in your host country. What you’re experiencing is called reverse culture shock. These feelings are temporary and completely normal. One of the best ways to help you overcome reverse culture shock is to learn more about it.
Common Stages of Reverse Culture Shock
(Summarized from Back in the USA: Reflecting on Your Study Abroad Experience and Putting It to Good Work by Dawn Kepets)
With your departure date nearing, you begin to concentrate on your return home. It’s a feeling of having one foot in your host country and the other foot in your home country. You start thinking about wrapping up your time abroad and making plans for what you’ll do when you get home.
In this stage, you get excited about the prospect of going home. You think about seeing your old friends, eating your favorite foods and speaking your native language. This stage may occur before leaving your host country or just upon arriving home. It may also be brief, especially for those who were very well adjusted to their host culture. Students who were unhappy while abroad may not experience return shock beyond this stage.
This stage occurs after a short time back in your home country and is characterized by feeling like a foreigner in your own country. You may feel frustrated, alienated and critical of your own culture. Things that were previously completely normal to you now stand out. You feel like no one really wants to hear about your experience and they can’t relate to it. This is a good time to seek out other study abroad returnees and ISEP alumni. They can provide support and sympathy as you readjust to life back in your home country.
Things are no longer so shocking and you are less critical about aspects of your culture that bothered you during the dampened euphoria stage. You begin to analyze what you learned abroad and decide how you will apply it to your life in your home country. You may decide to adopt certain host culture characteristics or habits into your daily life. You may begin to think about how to apply what you’ve learned both academically and professionally.
How to Handle Common Reverse Culture Shock Challenges:
After being abroad where a daily task was an exciting challenge and you were meeting so many new people, returning to the comfortable routines of home may seem boring. However, with your new international experience and language ability, you can seek out new outlets to channel your interests—new friends, clubs, activities and more.
No One Wants to Hear About Your Experiences
When you return, you may want to talk non-stop about your time abroad only to find that people don’t seem that interested. Or you may feel frustrated that people ask “How was it?” — as if there is a simple answer to that question. Frequently, people who haven’t had an international experience have a hard time relating to yours and may lose interest once they hear the highlights of your time abroad. Make an effort to seek out other study abroad returnees; they will be more receptive to listening to all the details about your time abroad and will have stories to share with you as well. When discussing your time abroad with less receptive audiences, remember to keep your stories brief and relevant to your audience.
It’s Hard to Explain
You experienced so much while you were abroad that it may be difficult to accurately explain all the feelings you had or describe all the sights you saw. You may feel that you can’t get people to understand it, but that’s okay. Again, this is a good time to talk to other study abroad returnees. Also, journaling or scrap-booking may help you better articulate and express what you went through.
If you made good friends and grew to love the host culture, it’s only natural that you will miss it upon leaving. Luckily, technology makes it easy to keep in touch with your new friends via email, Skype, Facebook, etc. It may help to seek out and befriend people at home who are from your host country.
Relationships Have Changed
Just as you’ve changed while abroad, people back home have undergone changes while you were away. You may notice that you relate to people differently than before. Whether positive or negative, this is normal. Handle it with patience and without losing sight of why you were close to the person in the first place.
People See “Wrong” Changes or Misunderstand You
Some people may be upset by changes in your behavior or ideas. This negativity is often rooted in feelings of jealousy, inferiority or superiority. This phase normally passes quickly if you are aware of how people react to you, and are willing to explain these changes in a way that isn’t boastful or defensive.
Feeling of Alienation or Seeing Home with Critical Eyes
After experiencing a different culture, you may find yourself critical of some aspects of your home culture. Know that you had to go through these same feelings upon arrival in your host culture. In due time, you will gain a more balanced perspective and realize the strengths and weaknesses of both cultures without being so critical.
Inability to Apply New Knowledge and Skills
You might feel like your newly acquired linguistic, cultural and practical coping skills aren’t relevant at home. However, with a little patience and persistence you will find ways to use these skills. Your international office on campus should have resources to help with this.
Loss/Compartmentalization of Experience
After getting back into the routine of life at home, you may feel like your experience is slipping away from you. Don’t let this happen. Keep the experience alive by maintaining contact with the friends you made while abroad and sharing your experience with those who can relate to it.
- Bring some of your host culture back home with you and share it with friends at home. Try cooking friends and family a favorite dish from your time abroad.
- Share your experience to inspire other students. Become a mentor for foreign students on your campus, volunteer or work in your international studies or study abroad office. Our ISEP Ambassador Program is a structured way to do this.
- Consider integrating some host culture habits into your routine at home. Maybe you really enjoyed that everyone walked everywhere - make an effort to walk whenever you can once you get home.
- Stay in touch with friends you made while abroad. You can also connect with other ISEP students to offer advice and welcome students.
- Remember what it was like when you first arrived in your host country. The steps you took to adjust to your host culture will be useful for readjusting back to being at home. New experiences were probably a big distraction - find ways to stay busy with new experiences at home.