Reverse Culture Shock
Just as culture shock can differ greatly from person to person, reverse culture shock is just as personal of an experience. Upon return to the United States, you may find many things are different from how you left them and may be more critical of the United States while you now view your host country in a more favorable light. From language adjustments to depression to a simple trip to the supermarket, reverse culture shock can hit you in more ways than you would expect.
Defining Reverse Culture Shock
So what is reverse culture shock? First, let's examine the process of re-entry. There are usually two elements that characterize it:
- An idealized view of home
- The expectation of total familiarity (that nothing at home has changed while you have been away)
Often, students expect to be able to pick up exactly where they left off. A problem arises when reality doesn't meet these expectations. Home may fall short of what you had envisioned, and things may have changed: your friends and family have their own lives, and things have happened since you've been gone, making home seem foreign.
Feelings You May Experience
The inconsistency between expectations and reality, plus the lack of interest on the part of family and friends (nobody seems to really care about all your "when I was abroad" stories) may result in these challenges:
- Frustration- Your home country just doesn’t seem as comfortable anymore, and your loved ones may be slow to respond to your new tastes.
- Boredom- Things at home have seemed to have lost its pizzazz.
- Relationships have changed- The changes between you and your loved ones have caused a slight division in your relationships.
- Reverse Homesickness- You long to study in your host country again.
- Feelings of alienation- You feel like family and friends are asking you to revert to your “old” self.
- Mutual misunderstandings- Your changes and your loved ones’ reactions to them can be misinterpreted.
(More challenges in the University of Buffalo’s re-entry handbook)
Of course, the difficulty of readjustment will vary for different individuals, but, in general, the better integrated you have become to your host country’s culture and lifestyle, the harder it is to readjust during re-entry. This is where reverse culture shock (sometimes called re-entry shock) comes in to play.
Stages of Reverse Culture Shock
Reverse culture shock is usually described in four stages:
- Initial euphoria
- Irritability and hostility
- Readjustment and adaptation
Stage 1 begins before you leave your host country when you start thinking about re-entry and making your preparations for your return home. With the hustle and bustle of finals, good-bye parties, and packing, you begin to realize that it's time to say good-bye to your friends abroad and to the place you've come to call home. This can intensify your feelings of sadness and frustration, making you reluctant to leave. Or, you may make your last few days fly by so fast that you don't have time to reflect on your emotions and experiences.
Stage 2 usually begins shortly before departure and is characterized by feelings of excitement and anticipation–even euphoria–about returning home. This is very similar to the initial feelings of fascination and excitement you may have had when you first entered your host country. The length of this stage varies and often ends with the realization that most people are not as interested in your experiences abroad as you had hoped. Although you and your loved ones are excited about your return, you will find that they politely listen to your stories for a while, but soon, they are ready to move on to the next topic of conversation.
This is often one of the transitions to Stage 3. You may experience feelings of frustration, anger, alienation, loneliness, disorientation, and helplessness and not understand exactly why, possibly causing you to become irritated or critical of others and of U.S. culture. Other common reactions are depression, feeling like a stranger at home, and the longing to go back abroad. You could also feel like your independence has diminished.
Then, most people transition to Stage 4, which is a gradual readjustment to life at home. Things will start to feel normal again, and you will probably fall back into some old routines; however, things won't be exactly the same as how you left them. Most likely, you have developed new attitudes, beliefs, habits, as well as personal and professional goals, and you will see things differently now. The important thing is to try to incorporate the positive aspects of your international experience while abroad with the positive aspects of your life at home in the United States.
- Become a Peer-Advisor, so you can help and encourage others to enjoy the same experiences you had in your host country.
- Join conversation partners to welcome international students to UNI, exchange information on each other’s cultures, and make solid relationships.
- Seek out clubs and organizations to promote diversity on the UNI campus, and share your experiences you’ve had abroad.
- Make a scrapbook of your memories from your study abroad experience that you can share with others.
- Keep a journal, and write about your experiences.
- Take classes with an international focus such as International Relations, World Geography, Religions of the World, etc.
- Introduce your friends to your host country’s culture through food, dress, etc.
- Attend events prepared by the UNI Study Abroad Office.
- Study abroad again! You could seek out a new international opportunity or deepen your knowledge by reliving the experience in your host country.
- Do not isolate yourself.
- Look for new adventures in your home country, and try new experiences.
- Focus on the positive changes your have acquired from abroad.
Suggestions to Make the Transition Easier
- Remember you will be experiencing changes and challenges with your return.
- Don’t think that you are the only one who has had to experience this. Converse with others who went abroad.
- Keep in contact with friends and family, and ask for continuous updates from your home country while abroad. Once back in your home country, keep in contact with your friends from your host country to keep updated there as well.
- Learn to incorporate your new beliefs and attitudes into your life at home.
- Realize that you will need time to adjust, and things will not automatically continue on as you left them.
- Prepare to hear stories from your loved ones when you return.
- Prepare yourself to hop into the normal routine of life on UNI’s campus.
- Take care of your mental and physical health—it is common to become ill shortly after your return.
- Be open, and be patient!
Unless stated otherwise, the information is from: Student Study Abroad Handbook