Tips For Coping With Reverse Culture Shock
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Health and Wellness

Tips For Coping With Reverse Culture Shock

What to expect your first few weeks back from abroad

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Tips For Coping With Reverse Culture Shock
Alexis Blydenburgh

As the end of the semester comes near, so does the end of a study abroad experience for many fortunate college students from all over the world. I know from personal experience that leaving one’s host country is one of the toughest things a person can experience, and while people prepare you for culture shock when entering a new country, no one prepares you for the reverse culture shock you face upon your arrival home. Reverse culture shock can be defined as “The shock suffered by some people when they return home after [time spent] overseas. This can result in unexpected difficulty in readjusting to the culture and values of the home country, now that the previously familiar has become unfamiliar.” Reverse culture shock is very real and is often more severe than culture shock because one does not expect to struggle adjusting back home.

If you are a person who is experiencing or who will experience reverse culture shock, it is important to know that you are not alone. You may think your feelings are extreme, abnormal, or inappropriate, but many people before you have experienced the same thing. Anything you feel during this transition back home is valid, and remembering that is key. I hope that by sharing some of my personal experiences with you, I can use what I learned the hard way to help make your transition a little bit easier.

Here are some common phases of reverse culture shock and tips for coping:

You don’t want to talk with anyone from home because you are not ready for your first-hand moments and experiences to become stories.

I went out for coffee with my best friend the morning after I arrived home. “Tell me everything,” she said. I paused to think but I didn’t know where to start. So much had happened, and so much was beyond what I could put into words. I ended up telling my friend that I wasn’t ready to share, and fortunately, she understood. I recommend journaling many of your most intimate and favorite experiences before sharing them out. This was very helpful for me because I was able to capture the memories in an organized way so I didn’t get my facts mixed up, and from my journal I could pick which stories I wanted to share and which would be mine to keep. A journal is a great tool while abroad, but also upon returning home as you will continue to have thoughts and memories arise during your first weeks back.

When you are ready to talk about your semester abroad, you feel like people only want to hear the basics.

When I was ready to talk about my semester, I wanted to talk about every little detail. Unfortunately, my family and friends were not as eager to listen to every little detail as I was to share. I felt frustrated because no one at home could connect with what I had just experienced. Fortunately, I had great friends from abroad who were just as desperate to talk about everything we had just been through as I was. Finding people who shared your study abroad experience or who studied abroad at some point is essential because they understand your need to relive your best moments. They will be happy to listen because they too feel or have felt the same way.

You find yourself comparing the way things work at home with things worked abroad, and liking the way they were abroad a lot better.

Aspects about your home life and culture that you never even gave a thought now seem backward and foreign. I felt that way as soon as my flight landed stateside. I preferred the culture of my host country to my home country, and I still do although I’ve adjusted to being back home. Something that helped me was connecting with people who spoke the target language and who were from the country that hosted me. I was able to talk to them about their home and their ways of life or share a meal with them the same way I would have abroad. Connecting with people from your host country is very helpful because you don’t need to give up that culture completely.

You realize that life went on without you at home and that you have some catching up to do.

I was so wrapped up in my life abroad that it didn’t even cross my mind that my family and friends at home were moving forward without me. It was hard to find my way back into a community that had moved on while I wasn’t there, but I also needed to remember that I changed and developed my own community without them too. The important thing is to be patient, and understand that home life isn’t the only aspect that changed. You changed while you were abroad too, and you are going to have a different role in your community than when you left. And that’s okay.

Day to day life isn’t fulfilling like it was abroad, and you easily become bored or disinterested.

Things that were challenging and exciting, such as ordering a cup of coffee in the target language, lose their thrill when they suddenly become mindless activities again. I often felt disengaged and unhappy with how simple everything had become. Finally, I decided to sightsee in my own city places I always took for granted. Going new places, whether it be a cafe, park, or grocery store, allowed me to meet new people and feel newness in my own town.

You find yourself calling your host country “home,” and you’re homesick for a place that is no longer where you reside.

This feeling will never completely go away. Suffering from reverse culture shock can feel a lot like grieving and can last for several weeks. I spent most of my first few days home in bed, not wanting to face the fact that my semester abroad was over. Unfortunately, that is the price you pay for a once in a lifetime experience across the world. Although reverse culture shock can be tough, I wouldn’t give up my time and memories abroad for anything. As Miriam Adeney once said, “You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart always will be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.”

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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