Coming home can be a very exciting time as you reunite with all of the people, places and things that you craved while abroad. It can also be a tough transition as you find yourself longing for the sights, sounds, smells and feelings that you had immersed yourself in during your time abroad. This phenomenon is called reverse culture shock. It can affect travelers at different times and to varying degrees. Some students may feel profoundly impacted by reverse culture shock; while others seem to be barely scathed, as they transition easily back to their lives in the US.
Almost all travelers expect to experience some degree of culture shock when they leave the US, but not as many anticipate the difficulties they may experience upon return. News flash: the world did not stop while you were abroad. Your family, friends, roommates, coworkers and classmates continued on with their lives while you were gone. They have had many experiences, just the same as you have. (Okay, so maybe they didn't get to stand on the top of the Eiffel Tower, or climb the Great Wall of China, or dwell in Nelson Mandela's cell on Robben Island, or live with an aboriginal family in Broome!) But they did have experiences, and it is important to honor the important events which took place in their lives.
The most important thing to realize about reverse culture shock is that it is a normal part of the process. Missing what you left behind means that you really embraced your experience abroad. It is important to recognize it and seek out ways to share your experiences with others and stay connected with your "abroad life". And don't worry, this too shall pass... with time.
An effective way to combat any reverse culture shock you may be experiencing is to continue to talk about, blog, journal, sing, write poems or just share your stories of study abroad (either in private or in public). As with any transitions in life, sometimes it can be nice to talk to a professional about reflections or thoughts surrounding your return to campus. Feel free to connect with Counseling and Health Promotions for additional support.
What can you do to counteract reentry shock? In fact, the battle is mostly won when you understand that returning home involves an adjustment process similar to the one you experienced when first going abroad. Indeed, the practical steps we are going to recommend are quite similar to those we suggested for overseas adaptation:
1) Start your exploration of home through sympathetic friends or family members. Share with them some of the feelings you have had while living overseas. Sharing feelings instead of experiences sounds less like bragging.
2) Find informants about the United States just as you did about your overseas country. Be the learner. Ask questions about current issues: the price of common products and services, popular entertainment, politics and U.S. foreign policy, the effect of recent changes on the society.
3) Ask a friend to make a list of new terms and fads to help you figure out what the current trends are.
4) Research various groups that may interest you: churches, clubs, student or professional organizations, international and intercultural groups.
5) Explore places where you might find others with international experience, or seek foreign nationals from the country where you studied abroad and share common experiences you've enjoyed. You may want to become a host to an exchange student.
Excerpt from "Survival Kit for Overseas Living" by L. Robert Kohls.
Each person has a unique way of making sense of significant experiences in their lives. The following Reflection Guides were developed by the Companions on a Journey Office at CSB to help you in this important life transition. You may choose to use these guides with your entire study abroad cohort, with a small group of friends, or to complete them individually.