Reverse Culture Shock
Culture shock is a topic I’m sure most study abroad advisors touched upon before the departure for the trip. But, what about the return home? Wait, we have to go through the whole culture shock thing…again? And, this time it’s in our own stomping grounds?
I’m not saying it happens to everyone, but my study abroad advisors warned us that the “reverse culture shock” when coming back home could be worse than the initial culture shock entering the foreign country.
The Study Abroad Handbook specifically highlights reverse culture shock on www.studentsabroad.com. They define reverse culture shock with two elements: an idealized version of home, and the expectation that nothing has changed while you were away. The problem they say is when, “reality doesn’t meet expectations.”
Personally, I knew what was waiting for me at home: my family, my friends, my dog, my favorite coffee shops, and all of my favorite “American” things. But, it was incredibly difficult for me to adjust from the amazing life I lead in London, and traveling every weekend around Europe, especially when no one back home had just experienced that with me. I had fully integrated into London life with living, working, and socializing there, and the Study Abroad Handbook says this is when reverse culture shock sets in the worst.
They characterize reverse culture shock in four categories:
This is the first stage where you have to say goodbye to your life in the foreign country and goodbye to your new friends. You may be reluctant to leave, or it may go by so quickly that you don’t have time to reflect on these emotions.
- Initial Euphoria
This is all the excitement, and anticipation of returning home and seeing all those familiarities again. They say this stage usually ends when you realize that people are starting to show (hopefully polite) disinterest in your stories from abroad.
- Irritability and hostility
This is where they describe feeling frustrated, alienated, critical of the culture in the United States, and longing to go back abroad. They say these are all very common reactions. I remember feeling all of these characteristics (and still deal with these feelings from time to time), and even feeling a lack of independence and desire to be in the United States.
- Readjustment and AdaptationThe final stage is when things start to feel normal, and you fall into your daily routines again. It’s been almost five months since I came back from my study abroad experience, and I know I’m still having a mix of both stage three and four.
No matter what it’s difficult to transition from an experience that may have changed your life forever, including your values, beliefs, hopes, and dreams. I mean, I never thought my five-year plan would include me learning French and moving to Paris until I visited and fell deeply in love with the city back in November.
I’m lucky, because three of my four roommates in London went to my university that I did the study abroad program through, so I get to see them on a regular basis since returning for another semester at school. But, I know what has helped me to adjust back to life in the states is to talk about all of my experiences with my roommates, friends, and family. And, I often look at photos to remember all the positive things, and how this experience changed my life for the better.