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Spending any amount of time studying abroad is an impactful experience. While the coronavirus has forced many students to cut their study abroad experience short, that doesn’t take away from the impact it’s made.
Many people talk about the culture shock you feel when you move to a new country to start a new chapter in your life, but the reverse culture shock you feel returning to the United States is just as jarring. In fact, most students say the reverse culture shock is worse than the shock of going abroad. Why is this?
When you’re getting ready to head abroad everything is new and exciting, you don’t know what to expect and you’re open to everything coming your way. When you head home you know exactly what you’re going back to and what you’re leaving behind.
For students whose programs ended early because of COVID-19, not only are you dealing with reverse culture shock but the fact that something you’ve likely been planning for and working towards for years did not go as planned. These can be overwhelming and frustrating times, and we’ve got a few ways for you to stay mentally healthy and cope with this unprecedented change.
7 Tips for Dealing with Reverse Culture Shock
Take your time
No matter how you go about it, it’s going to take time to adjust to your life back home. You may be returning to live with your parents, or residing with friends, and you may even feel displaced if your housing has been disrupted by the coronavirus. Everything you’re feeling is not only normal, but okay. The most common feelings that students have, that may be more enhanced at this time include:
- That no one understands what you’re feeling
- Loneliness as many cities enter into mandatory lockdowns and quarantines
- Anxiety over the future of your living and academic situation as COVID-19 becomes more prevalent in the U.S.
- Uncertainty of how to apply new knowledge and skills to live back home
- Judged by friends for new habits
- That your friends/family are sick of hearing about your study abroad experience
- Uncertainty of how you fit into your life back home after the changes you’ve experienced abroad
- Anger over the unexpected ending of a life-changing experience
All of these feelings are valid, and they take time to get through. The best thing you can do is recognize what you’re feeling, use your favorite coping mechanism to get through it, and give yourself the time and self-care you need for the feelings to pass. While it might take some time, all of these feelings will pass.
Stay connected to your host culture
When you’re missing home, and in this case, we’re referring to your study abroad home, finding ways to stay connected to the culture you’ve been living in are important.
There are a variety of ways you can incorporate the culture from your host country in your life back home that include:
- Cooking local meals for family and friends
- Reading books about the culture
- Watching tv or listening to audiobooks in the local language
- Decorating with souvenirs
- Teach friends and family local traditions
- Join clubs on your local campus
Stay connected with your friends from abroad
No matter where in the world you are, it’s easy to stay connected to people. Try creating a standing group date with friends from your study abroad group. Committing to a specific time every week or two weeks to meet up will keep communication consistent and give you something to look forward to.
Focus on your online courses
For many students who have been sent home early as a result of the COVID-19 situation worldwide, they are finishing their classes online. We know taking study abroad classes from your bedroom is much different than from your host country, but it’s an important time to stay on top of your studies. Plus, this serves as another opportunity to connect with your friends from abroad.
Scrapbook your travels
With a variety of lockdowns and mandated quarantines going on, there’s plenty of time to jump right into scrapbooking your photos from study abroad, making a video out of all that GoPro footage and other crafty projects. If you need some inspiration, Pinterest is always a good idea and here are five craft projects you can do with your study abroad photos. Don’t forget that you can always share your videos with USAC or share your study abroad story on the USAC blog to stay connected with USAC.
Take advantage of the resources
Whether you were abroad for three weeks or three months, reverse culture shock hits the same. Fortunately, this is a topic we’ve discussed many times before, so take some time to read our top resources for dealing with reverse culture shock.
4 Tips for Staying Mentally Healthy
We’ve discussed some strategies for dealing with the shock of returning from study abroad, but with the new COVID-19 virus affecting things worldwide there’s good reason to do a mental health check-in as well.
Here are four tips we recommend for staying on top of and in control of your anxiety and overall mental health during this time.
Allow yourself to grieve
When your study abroad experience ends without any warning, you lose a piece of yourself. You lose an experience you were fully enveloped in and losing anything that meaningful calls for some grieving. The best way to get through grieving is to allow yourself to do it. There is no right or wrong length of time that it will take for you to not feel sad about your study abroad ending, so embrace that period for however long it lasts.
Exercise boosts your mood! The good news is that even if you’re in lockdown or quarantine you can still get outside or do some exercises in your home. Many companies are offering free or affordable subscriptions to online fitness classes. Even getting outside for a walk for 20 minutes a day can have positive effects on your mood and mental health.
Sometimes self-care is easier said than done, but fortunately, with the power of technology, there’s literally an app for everything. If you’re having trouble sleeping or simply calming your mind, try downloading the Calm App or similar meditation apps. Sometimes we need a reminder to take 30 seconds to just breathe.
Be cautious of your media intake
We know aimlessly perusing social media is a great pastime when you have a lot of time on your hands, but some media outlets are not helping the coronavirus situation, and non-stop consumption of news and stories about the pandemic can be overwhelming. If you want to stay informed, stick with reputable sources like the World Health Organization and the Center for Disease Control and recognize when it’s time to log off for a bit.
Lean on the USAC team
While dealing with the coronavirus has been a new situation for all of us, USAC has been sending students to study abroad for more than 35 years. No matter what stage of your study abroad journey you’re in, we’re here to help and can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Without a doubt, these are unprecedented times, but this too shall pass. Our CEO said it best, study abroad teaches one to be resilient and flexible, and right now that’s the best we can all do. Take the necessary steps to stay mentally healthy during this time, utilize the resources available to you, know you’re not alone in dealing with your reverse culture shock, and start dreaming up your next adventure.