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How to Deal With Reverse Culture Shock After Studying Abroad

Going homeUpdated on June 9th, 2015.

Much has been written about the woes of “reverse culture shock,” something that has become a more well-known phenomenon as of late -- it’s like the culture shock of living in a new country, but less cool and fun because you’re actually back home in your regular ol’ home country.

Many study abroad returnees have lamented over how annoying the American accent is or how obnoxious, unhappy, self-centered, uncultured, overworked -- insert adjective here -- people are back at home.

On the flip side, there’s ice in your water, unlimited free soda refills, hot showers, cold air conditioning, and all the comfort foods you desperately missed while abroad. And sometimes even those wonderful conveniences can be a bit overwhelming. But there are some positives to this stage of re-entry, so take a deep breath and pay close attention to all your reverse culture shock observations, because they can actually be of great use to you!

Share Your Experiences With Others

If you just come home and shove your international experiences in the back drawer of your mind, how can you learn from them? Sharing your experiences and observations from abroad with others will often help you sort through them yourself and gain an understanding of all that you did learn -- and are still learning!

Sharing your experiences may lead others to decide to go overseas themselves, and you never know what kind of incredible domino effect you might begin! It may also help you find others who feel similar to the way you do about some of these “culture shock” aspects, and finding like-minded friends will help make your transition easier and help you stick with the changes in yourself and your lifestyle that you want to keep.

Ways to Share Your Experience
  • Volunteer (or work) at your study abroad office. Often there are peer mentor positions at the study abroad office, where you can meet with prospective students, give them some little insight from your own experience, and help point them in the right direction before they speak with an advisor.
  • Volunteer at study abroad fairs and events. In a similar vein, most universities have various international education-focused events throughout the year, and they’re usually on the lookout for study abroad alumni to speak about their experiences -- whether it’s formally in a speech or panel, or manning a table.
  • Become a program ambassador. Did you love the program you went abroad with? Contact them about becoming a campus ambassador. You’ll have the chance to represent your program at various events and fairs on campus, and who knows… maybe it will lead to something more!
  • Give back by working with international students. If your university has a lot of international students, they probably also have a lot of ways for local students to get involved. It could be something as simple as showing them around campus on their first days, or something as extensive as meeting every week for conversations to help them with their English.
  • Start a club! You know you’re probably not the only person who came home and experienced some reverse culture shock. Why not seek out some of your fellow study abroad returnees and start some kind of study abroad returnee/alumni club. Meet regularly to share your photos, stories, and experiences with each other, to talk about how you’re readjusting to life at home, to try new things like eating at ethnic restaurants, visiting museums, or going to local cultural events. Perhaps even reach out to other students on campus to talk about the benefits of international experience, or just to hold fun cultural events of your own!

Embrace a Different Outlook

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Did being abroad make you realize your priorities were all screwed up? Did living with a host family make you wish you were closer with your own family? Did living out of a suitcase make you realize how little you really need to be happy? Did the more relaxed work culture in your host country make you realize that you wanted a different lifestyle than the typical 9-5 American dream?

Reflect on these new things you learned about yourself and your outlook on life and don’t lose them. It is so easy to come home and fall back into the trap of your old life and the same old routines, but don’t let that happen. Part of the reason you went abroad was likely to create change in yourself and your life, so embrace that!

Keep Those New Good Habits You Learned Abroad

Don’t stop using those reusable grocery bags just because the supermarket doesn’t charge your for plastic ones anymore. Don’t stop walking everywhere just because now you can drive. Seek out local fresh food markets and shop like you did abroad, even if your local mega-mart might be more convenient.

Chances are while abroad you picked up a lot of habits that were actually better and healthier -- both for you and our planet! So don’t give up and fall into lazy convenience just because you’re back home and you can. Let your experience help make you a permanently new you.

Use What You’ve Learned to Gain Direction

Take a look at all the things that have struck you -- good and bad -- as you readjust to real life back home. Do some things stand out to you as being especially significant? Going abroad often shows you where your passions lie, but sometimes it’s not totally clear until you return home.

Did coming home make you realize the true issues that others around the globe face -- perhaps something related to poverty, the environment, or education -- that really got to you?

Going abroad often shows you where your passions lie, but sometimes it’s not totally clear until you return home. [tweet this]

This may be just the nudge you need to understand what you should be pursuing with your life. This may mean a huge change in direction, or a small switch in focus, but reflecting on your thoughts and feelings and listening to your gut is hugely important in turning this aspect of your reverse culture shock into something positive moving forward.

Remember What You Love About Home

Part of the fun of studying abroad is that you were somewhere new and constantly discovering things to love about your host country. Don't loose that mentality or practice, re-discover the things you love and missed about home, or go out there and uncover some new things.

Play tourist in your home town, consider moving to a new city in your country (if that's an option), and try not to focus so much on what you're missing out on by not living abroad any more, but all the things to embrace that are right in front of you.

Put it All Together and Admire Your Progress!

Diary

Take some time to sit with your thoughts and write down all your observations -- on the above three topics and anything else you might have noticed in picking apart your so-called “reverse culture shock.” Better yet, journal about this every day or couple of days for a few weeks. Then go back and read.

You’ll be able to see your progress and analyze what these shocks to your system actually mean. After some time you will be able to see how all these things that annoyed, irked, shocked or overwhelmed you are actually helping to shape you into a new, better version of yourself. Coming home is still part of the process, and you've worked so hard at documenting your time abroad, why would you stop now?

Make The Most of Re-Entry

Pat yourself on the back and embrace this difficult re-entry stage. They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and challenging yourself to make the best of this time will most certainly lead you to a better you and a better future!

Photo Credits: Steve Snodgrass, Wikimedia Commons and Fredrik Rubensson.
Rachael Taft

Growing up in the Midwest, Rachael couldn't wait to get out and see the world. She's studied abroad in Italy and Thailand, interned abroad in Sydney, worked abroad in Australia and Fiji, and traveled to 30+ countries, including backpacking solo across South America. In addition to working in international exchange, Rachael obsesses over all things her blog Girl, Unmapped.