You’ve just had this amazing, life-changing experience abroad exploring new things, people, ideas, foods, cultures, and even reflecting on your values. Now that you are back, you may find that returning home can even be a harder adjustment than when you first went abroad. Reverse culture shock is the feeling that while study abroad may have changed you, everything back home has remained the same. You know that maybe your values, ideas, and attitudes, or concepts of what is right and wrong has changed. How much you understand the changes you have gone through and how much your friends and family accept these changes might be different.
It is important to take time to consider what the particular frustrations are for you. To combat these challenges, you can prepare by being flexible and open-minded about returning home. Other study abroad students are going through these emotions and you can turn to each other to support. Take a moment to reflect on reentry challenges and solutions for study abroad students:
- Attend the Lessons from Abroad” Conference. This is a professional conference for study abroad returnees that can help you deal with reverse culture shock, learn how to incorporate your newly acquired skills into your career and academic goals, and learn how to go abroad again. Several conferences are held in California throughout the year.
- Do not be upset if people seem indifferent to your experience abroad. Understand that those who haven’t studied abroad will have a hard time relating. Talk with others who have come back from abroad and share your experiences, frustration, and joys. You will likely find that these are the people who will most likely want to hear your stories.
- Accept the fact that relationships with friends, family, and significant others have changed and that things are not going to be the same as when you left. You will need to build on relationships, not merely resume them. No one's life went on hold just because you were gone, and his or her experiences are just as important.
- People see the “wrong” changes if your ideas and behavior have changed. Instead, focus on how you are now better off from the experiences you have had.
- Try to apply what you learned abroad to your life here. What can be saved? What is useful?
- You may feel alienated in the U.S. and recognize more faults of American society. Don't isolate yourself. Use your cross-cultural study-abroad skills to observe and understand your own culture.
- Add a language minor or cultural cluster to your academic plan to focus on a new area of interest. Or join a diversity, language or cultural club on campus.
- Reacquaint yourself with the wonders of America. Nothing beats the fireworks display behind the Eiffel Tower, but Disney has terrific fireworks!
- You don’t need to settle for McDonalds. There are ethnic restaurants all over L.A. and Orange Counties.
- Finally, if you really cannot do without your host country, now is the time to begin planning for your next experience. Find out how to go abroad again.
Remember: Like culture shock, reverse culture shock passes in time.
(Partly adapted What’s Up With Culture?, School of International Studies, University of the Pacific, Bruce La Brack, ed. (2003), funding by FIPSE, U.S. Department of Education. Available at www.pacific.edu/culture)
If you feel that you need to speak to a counselor confidentially in a safe environment, please contact Student Psychological and Counseling Services.
Visit the Student Psychological and Counseling Center for group study abroad alumni sessions on adjusting back to Chapman life.