Saying Goodbye To Study Abroad: Returning Home & Managing Reverse Culture Shock

The year is almost over, and that means that our 2021 Fall semester students are preparing to return home. If you’ve spent your semester studying abroad, you’re probably already feeling a tinge of sadness as you enter your last few weeks in your host city. Returning home can come with a mix of emotions, but know that whatever you feel is normal and all part of the process.

While you might have expected to feel sad or nostalgic about leaving your host city, you might not expect to experience reverse culture shock. If you’ve been abroad for the past semester, you already know what culture shock is. Reverse culture shock is the opposite: the struggle to immerse back into your life back home. Fortunately, we’ve seen reverse culture shock a time or two (and most USAC staff have experienced it firsthand on more than one occasion), so we’re here to help. Keep reading for our top tips for managing reverse culture shock and those post-study abroad blues.

Bianca explores Spain during her study abroad in San Sebastian.

Tip 1: Understand The Symptoms Of Reverse Culture Shock

While returning home can look different on everyone, most students experience a similar set of emotions and behaviors while managing reverse culture shock. Upon returning home, you may experience a mix of emotions and can feel distant from friends and family. Many students struggle to articulate the experiences they had abroad and how those impacted them, making it hard to relate to peers back home. On top of that, not anticipating this hurdle or understanding why you’re feeling the way that you are can make reverse culture shock a battle. Struggling to assimilate back into life at home can present itself in a variety of ways:

  • Frustration
  • Boredom
  • Restlessness
  • 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
A student reads by herself.

Tip 2: Give Yourself Time To Process

There’s no magic quick fix to reverse culture shock and no schedule we can share that maps out exactly when you’ll start feeling better. Just like pre-departure and your time abroad, returning home is a personal journey, and every student handles it differently. It’s important to give yourself the time and space you need to process your emotions. Hopefully, you’ve already been doing some reflection of your study abroad experiences, but as you immerse back into life at home, take some extra time to think back on your time abroad.

Ask yourself: “What about my study abroad is different than life back home? What am I missing from my host culture? What did I learn about myself and how did I grow?” Taking time to understand how and why your study abroad impacted you can help you put a reason behind you’re feeling this mix of emotions and can help you appreciate the transformation.

USAC Torino students pose for a group picture. Photo taken before COVID-19.

Tip 3: Find Ways To Incorporate Study Abroad Into Life Back Home

You’ve likely adopted some local slang, mannerisms, or traditions from your host culture, or maybe you fell in love with a local dish, music, or new hobby. Find a piece of your host culture that you can incorporate into your life back home and set a goal to participate in that thing on a regular basis. For example, vow to cook a traditional dish for your friends or family once a month, join a language club on campus, or stay in touch with your host family. Just because your study abroad has ended doesn’t mean you have to give up on the things you learned! Stay connected to your host culture by mixing your favorite things from abroad into your life at home. Bonus points if you bring other USAC alumni along with you!

A student smiles in a pottery studio.

Tip 4: Don’t Stop Talking About Study Abroad

One main struggle students face after their study abroad ends is the feeling that their peers just don’t understand. It can be discouraging to gush about your experience to friends or family only to be met with looks of disinterest, misunderstanding, or talk of “normal” life back home. You just volunteered in South Africa, hiked the Camino de Santiago, and swam in hot springs in Chile! How can you be expected to care about Friday night’s football game or student potluck?

We get it, you’ve spent the last semester doing once-in-a-lifetime activities in bucket-list-worthy destinations, which can make everything else feel dull in comparison. The best thing to do is to keep talking about it! Maybe your friends and family aren’t meeting your level of excitement and passion, but someone else will. Organize a USAC alumni group on campus, offer to mentor prospective students through their journey, volunteer or work in your campus’ study abroad office, or write blogs and submit your photos to USAC for marketing efforts. There are a ton of ways to stay connected to your study abroad experience while connecting with people who share your passion and excitement for international education. Not sure how? Reach out to our alumni team at alumni@usac.edu for ideas.

USAC alumni participate in a panel discussion on studying abroad as an underrepresented student for international education week
USAC alumni prepare to speak on a student panel. Photo taken before COVID-19.

Tip 5: Keep The Dream Alive

Guess what? Just because your program ended doesn’t mean you’ve lost all chances to ever go abroad again. It might not happen right away, but you can (and should!) go abroad again in some way or another. If you’re interested in studying abroad again before graduation, remember that USAC offers a Returning Student Discount for all program alumni. Otherwise, start planning your next trip. Whether you volunteer abroad, apply for jobs in your host country, or want to do some independent traveling, it’s never too early to start researching your next international adventure. Having something to look forward to, work towards, and dream about will keep you engaged in the world of international education and excited for the future.

For alumni resources like re-entry materials, career tips, and ways to connect with USAC, visit the USAC website.