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Reverse Culture Shock
The unsettled feeling that can accompany one's return from abroad is what some refer to as "reverse culture shock" and is a very common reaction for students coming home from studying abroad. Feelings can range from the sense that nobody understands how you've changed, to feeling panicked that you will lose part of your identity if you don't have an outlet to pursue the new interests that were sparked abroad. Your own reactions to reintegrating into U.S. life may be different than that of your friends, and can include one or more of the following.
- Uncertainty, confusion about the future
- Isolation, wanting to be alone
- Reverse homesickness: missing the people, places, attitudes or lifestyles of your host country
- Changes in life goals and priorities
- Negativity or intolerance towards the U.S., including U.S. American behavior, attitudes, customs and common social practices
According to professionals in international education, 85 percent of people returning home have some kind of re-entry experience, and of those, 15 percent have more serious difficulties adapting to their return. If you're having difficulty with your return, think back to the adjustments you made to succeed while you were abroad. These same skills can help you in coming home. Remember that "W"-curve of cultural adjustment, the initial euphoria, followed by lots of criticism, followed by general acceptance and understanding of the new culture? Well, the same pattern applies to re-entry. The coping skills and strategies that were successful in helping you adjust to your overseas culture will be just as helpful in making the return home: get involved, identify a support group of other study abroad students, suspend judgment of others, keep a journal of your observations, and don't forget to keep your sense of humor. If you are experiencing major difficulty with re-entry, however, it may be good to seek out professional help. Information for counseling services can be found here.
Make a list of ways you would like to get involved on campus. This brainstorming list may help you set goals to ease your reentry. See the list of OSU student organizations.
Remember that having been the "fish out of water" and experiencing a different environment, it is natural that you may have a different view of the U.S. now that you have something to compare it to.
It is important to understand that each culture and country has its own systems of functioning based on cultural values, geographic settings, historical consequences, etc., that have been influences for generations and even centuries. You may appreciate certain aspects of your host culture but dislike others. The same is most likely true of your perspective of the U.S. system now that you have returned. After having been away, you may find things you like and others that you don't. The goal is to continue the learning, as there are thousands of cultures and sub-cultures in the world and the U.S. from which to learn.
What comparisons have you made now that you are home? What aspects of the U.S. culture do you dislike that you did not notice before? Which do you like?
Re-entry is different for everyone, just as your experience abroad was unique and special. However, there are some common re-adjustment issues that study abroad students report:
Personal Growth and Change--You may have experienced a challenge to your beliefs, convictions, values and world view while you were immersed in a different culture. You may have also experienced more academic freedom and personal independence while abroad. You may feel that you have matured and become more self-confident. You have undoubtedly changed in many ways. One of the greatest challenges of re-entry is having to adjust your "new" self to your "old" home. It is very common for returnees to experience loss of identity during this time.
How have you grown and changed?
New Knowledge and Skills--Just as your attitudes changed while you were abroad, you probably developed new knowledge, skills and behavior patterns. For example, you probably developed competencies that helped you survive in your everyday life overseas, such as learning to find your way around a new city, to act in a culturally appropriate manner, and to converse about new subjects, and foreign language skills. Other new competencies may include new knowledge about your major, new research skills and new problem-solving skills. Some returnees feel frustrated if they feel these skills are of little use once they return home.
What did you learn while abroad? How can you maintain those skills now that you have returned?
Relationships with Family and Friends--Some study abroad returnees say the most difficult issue to deal with when they return home is relationships with family and friends. It is important to realize that other people did not stay the same while you were gone. Also, all of your changes will undoubtedly affect your family and friends. Many returnees describe feelings of alienation, and some say they feel pressure from family and friends to revert back to the person they were before study abroad. Perhaps the most difficult, and most common, aspect of this issue is telling others about the overseas experience. Many returnees find that beyond polite inquiries and general questions, their friends and family do not seem to be very interested in hearing about their experiences.
What are your experiences with friends and family since returning?