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Reverse Culture Shock: What It Is and How to Respond

Posted on November 07, 2019

Reverse cultural shock is the anxiety you may feel when you get back to the United States. While you were abroad you will have changed and grown, but things at home usually remain the same. Reverse cultural shock can make coming home bittersweet. It is important to acknowledge these feelings and know that you are not alone in experiencing this. Below are some symptoms of reverse culture shock and how to respond to it.

Symptoms of Reverse Culture Shock

  • Isolation: Upon returning home, you may feel as if no one can understand your study abroad experience. Perhaps friends and loved ones are excited to have you home, ask about your experience the first time they see you but then things quickly move onto the next topic of conversation. This can leave you feeling that there is no outlet for you to talk about your experiences.

  • Oversimplifying your Experience Abroad: It can become frustrating to feel that you are not being able to communicate the significance of your time abroad. It can be easy to fall into the trap of saying “it was amazing!” or “it was life-changing!” every time someone asks you “how was it?” Especially if you were abroad for longer than a few weeks, there were undoubtedly ups and downs as you transitioned your whole life to living in a new country. However, this can be hard to unpack and convey to those who ask you how your time abroad was. It becomes simpler to just say it was great, even when you know the true answer is much more complicated than that.

  • A Shift in Attitude towards U.S. Norms: It is common for those who have spent time living or studying abroad for a period of time to have a shift in their attitude toward their home country upon return. This can manifest itself in many different ways. One way is that you may find yourself becoming critical of customs, values, or beliefs in the U.S. that didn’t bother you before you left. For example, maybe in the country you studied abroad, water usage was highly regulated and it was expected that everyone take under 5 minute showers. Now, back in the U.S. you find yourself in disbelief of all the water that is used on a daily basis on your campus. These types of revelations are common for students who return to the U.S. after studying abroad.

How to Respond to Reverse Culture Shock

  • Campus Resources: If your school or other schools in you area offers a re-entry seminar, TAKE IT! This is a great way to get connected with other students who may be having a similar experience. Re-entry programs are an excellent resource to learn about how other students have coped with reverse culture shock in the past and what other resources may be available for you.

  • Find Community: Stay in contact and share what you are experiencing with other students who were abroad with you. It is important to find others who understand what you are going through. While it can be helpful to vent and share frustrations about being back, make sure that you make time to look ahead and plan how you will continue to make your experience abroad relevant in a positive way.

  • Preserve your Experience: Another way to combat reverse culture shock is to acknowledge the importance of your experience regardless of whether those in your life understand it. Keep a journal or scrapbook of things that pertain to your host country. Stay connected to friends, host families and faculty you met while abroad. If you learned a foreign language, join conversation groups so you can practice your language skills.

  • Pay it Forward: It can be extremely rewarding to share your experience with those who are planning to go abroad. Volunteer with your campus’ study abroad office to help other students going abroad or get connected with foreign students coming to study at your campus.

  • Plan Your Next Trip: Just because this study abroad experience has ended, doesn’t mean it is the end of your global experience. Traveling, like learning, is a lifelong journey. Look into other opportunities to go abroad such as volunteering, interning abroad or going to graduate school abroad.

Reverse culture shock can hit immediately when you return or later on when the excitement of being back home wears off. Check in with yourself and don’t ignore what you are feeling. There are ways to remain connected to your study abroad experience - check out what your school has to offer and don’t be afraid to get involved!

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