Experts have termed this process "re-entry shock" or "reverse culture shock," thus officially recognizing the experience of returning from living or studying abroad as a genuine period of stress. Ironically, it seems as though it is even more stressful going home than it is going overseas, and it seems to be the most difficult for those who have adjusted the best to their overseas environment.
Reverse culture shock is difficult because it is unexpected. You expected things to be different upon your arrival in a foreign country, but you wonder why they should be different as you go home.
Not everyone faces the same challenges returning home because not everyone has had the same experience overseas. Often the adjustments that need to be made depend upon how long you have been abroad, how much culture shock you experienced after arriving overseas, how immersed you became in the culture, and how much you kept up with events, friends, etc., back home-to name but a few factors. However, knowledge is power, and the following is a list of some of the symptoms of reverse culture shock you may experience upon your arrival back in the United States:
- You are bored. After experiencing the excitement of a foreign country, your university campus or home city may pale in comparison.
- No one wants to hear about it. Family and friends may not be able to identify with your stories if they haven't had similar experiences themselves.
- You can't explain. It may be difficult to put all of your experiences and feelings into words.
- You experience a reverse homesickness. You yearn to be back in the other country with the friends you made there, the routines you established, and the endless possibilities it had to offer.
- People treat you the same. You have had these wonderful adventures that have changed you as a person, yet your friends and family treat you as if you never left home.
- Relationships have changed. You realize you have grown apart from some friends or you may now have less in common with them.
- You are confused and frustrated. Life at home has gone on without you, and you may not have been kept up to date with all the "gossip" of your circle of friends.
- You have difficulty applying your new knowledge and skills. It doesn't seem to matter that you can navigate the London Tube or negotiate various currencies.
- You are afraid you will lose or forget your experience. All the memories and feelings seem to be slipping away.
- You feel an unexplained, vague dissatisfaction with your life.
- American life appears too rushed. People eat and walk and talk so quickly. No one takes time to chat. There is always somewhere you need to be five minutes ago.
- You desire time for yourself. You miss the freedom and the time to think, to be, to question, to "live," and to create your own identity.
- You experience physical reactions. Perhaps, you experience a lack of concentration, disturbed sleep patterns, or fatigue. Upon their return home, some students even go through a period of depression similar to the grieving process.
- Your role has changed. You are no longer "The American" or someone different; you're just like everyone else again.
- You feel ______________.
The best way to confront re-entry shock is to recognize that it may happen to you and to constructively channel your experiences and new interests. If you do suffer from re-entry shock, know it isn't the end of the world. Just think back to your first few days in another country - you coped with those adjustment difficulties and you will do so again. And remember, you can always come back to Europe!
Now that you've read about reverse culture shock, you should know about the coping strategies available to assist you:
- Recognize that this re-entry process is part of the study abroad experience and anticipate that you will experience some adjustment problems. Educate your friends and family about this adjustment phase.
- Get busy. Immerse yourself immediately, just as you did when you arrived in your student destination. Get back into your classes. Get a job. Make plans with friends. Find ways to keep yourself occupied.
- Relax. Take time to process your experience and your feelings.
- Be as open and flexible as you were when you arrived in the other country. Think about the skills and coping strategies you employed overseas and put them to good use now (e.g., tolerance for ambiguity, ability to look at things objectively and with an open mind, acceptance of differences, patience instead of frustration, ability to suspend judgment, etc.).
- Focus on the positive. Enjoy the aspects of American culture and home life that you missed while you were overseas.
- Keep in touch with the friends you made abroad and any other contacts you made.
- Seek out other students who went abroad.
- Put your new knowledge and skills to use. Share your experiences with local school groups. Volunteer in your campus study abroad office. Assist in orientation for international students coming to your campus. Become an AIU Student Ambassador!
- Maintain your excitement about your study abroad experience. Put together your scrapbook or photo album. Watch international news programs. See foreign films. Re-read your journal.
- Be diplomatic in raving about your time abroad and tactful when bringing up your experiences. Know how much to share with which people. Accept that others are usually not able to relate to your experiences as intensely as you would wish.
- Listen to those who stayed at home. These friends have changed, too, and need to feel your interest in their experiences as much as you need their interest in yours.
- If you developed the desire to learn more about your home culture, follow up. Read the newspaper and magazines such as Time and Newsweek. Watch the news. Take a history or current events course.
- Identify people you can count on, who can support you in this transition period. Renegotiate friendships if necessary.
- Take care of yourself. The stress of re-entry may cause you to be tired, easily depressed, or subject to minor illnesses. Stay healthy by eating nutritious foods, exercising regularly, and getting plenty of sleep.
- Seek assistance, if necessary. If the stress of returning home begins to overwhelm you, seek advice from your university counselor or Student Services.