Reverse Culture Shock: Coming Home from Abroad

For many students who study abroad, the most difficult time is the culture shock of returning home. When you’ve spent several months in a different country you not only become accustomed to that country’s lifestyle and their food, but the bonds that you make with new friends makes your study abroad location quickly feel like home. Once it’s time to go back to the United States it’s common to feel like you are leaving home (for the second time!)

You often don’t realize just how much you’ve changed or grown until you return to the United States. After studying abroad in Madrid, Spain for six months I spent the summer at my parent’s house. I remember waking up to my mom cooking me a traditional American breakfast (bagel, cream cheese, eggs, etc.) and I quickly was disgusted and just wanted a muffin and some coffee. She looked at me like she had no idea who I was.

There was also the fact that I had to take a two to three-hour break in the middle of my day, for siesta of course. I was quickly reminded that Americans don’t take siestas! Hello reverse culture shock!

So what is reverse culture shock?

Culture shock is a well-known phenomenon and one that is often discussed with students when they’re embarking on their study abroad trip. There is a lot of focus on helping students adjust to their new homes and quickly get in the groove of their new daily life. Unfortunately, reverse culture shock is not as understood or even recognized. According to StudentsAbroad.com, reverse culture shock has two elements; an idealized view of home and the expectation of total familiarity. When you return home from studying abroad all of your routines and familiarities have changed and this contributes to reverse culture shock. Home may not be what you remembered, what you thought it was going to be, and for some, the problem is that home is exactly how you left it.

Many students will have an adjustment period and may even experience feelings of distance from family and friends. Don’t worry, this is completely normal! I lived overseas for six months. It took me the same amount of time to adjust to my time coming back home. Ten years later and I can still remember what that shock feels like (sometimes I think I still even have it).

That’s why I wanted to put together this list of suggestions for dealing with reverse culture shock. These tips will help you adjust to your new (old) life back home and teach you how to take all of your experiences from study abroad and apply them moving forward.

8 Suggestions for dealing with reverse culture shock

• Take your time
If you take away one piece of advice from this article, let it be this one. Returning home can take time, months for some. While it’s exciting to see your friends and family, you may not feel ready to enter back into the “real world” for a while, and that’s okay. USAC alum, Joel Freeman, has some great thoughts on adjusting to life once you’ve re-entered the U.S.

• Continue to practice your language skills
If you studied in a country that speaks a second language, the easiest and best ways to feel like you’re still a part of the culture you’ve been experiencing for the past several months is to enroll in advanced language courses and to look for opportunities to practice your language skills. You can do this on your college campus, with other alums, or even locally through language classes and groups.

• Continue to build what you learned abroad
Studying abroad becomes much larger than attending classes in a foreign country. You’ll learn new skills, hobbies you enjoy and types of people you want to surround yourself with. Seek out coursework, employment and volunteer opportunities that help you continue to build on those things.

• Connect with peers and friends from abroad
Fortunately, it is easier than ever to stay in touch with your friends from abroad. Create Facebook groups, have a never ending group text, utilize FaceTime and Skype. While your friends back home might grow tired of hearing about your stories from abroad, your abroad friends never will!

• Stay involved with USAC to meet other alumni
Most study abroad organizations, including USAC, organize on-campus gatherings, events, and mediums for students to network with and stay in touch with other alumni. Be sure to stay involved with groups and activities on your campus or in your community to stay in touch with other students who have studied abroad. To find other USAC alum, check out our alumni section of our website.

• Apply for a USAC group grant to help promote study abroad
One of the best ways to keep your study abroad experience alive is to help others discover the beauty of the experience. As a USAC alumnus, you can apply individually or as a group of USAC alumni for a grant of up to $500 to offset the cost of food, supplies, event space, transportation, etc. associated with a presentation, event, or project that allows more students to learn about study abroad and USAC programs, the resources available, and the lessons gained. Here are some examples of what you can do with your $500 Alumni grant.

• Utilize Avenues to Share Your Experience
If you found yourself documenting your experience abroad, look into different outlets where you can share your existing content and continue to create more. Whether it be a personal blog, a travelers publication or the USAC blog, use the variety of digital channels available to share your stories, experiences and memories with students who may be considering going abroad. You can apply to write for the USAC blog here: https://blog.usac.edu/blog-for-us/

• Plan Your Next Adventure
The best way to cure the coming home blues is to plan your next adventure. Whether it be visiting the country you studied abroad in, studying abroad again or simply taking a vacation, you’ll never regret continuing to grow, travel and learn about other cultures.

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