Reverse Culture Shock
The following information is attributed to Dr. Bruce La Brack work in What’s Up With Culture? (What’s Up With Culture?, School of International Studies, University of the Pacific, Bruce La Brack, ed. (2003), funding by FIPSE, U.S. Department of Education. Available at www.pacific.edu/culture)
One of the most common symptoms upon return is the feeling of reverse culture shock. Just like you may have experienced a shock when you first arrived at your study abroad site, you can experience something similar when you get home.
Here are the Top Ten Challenges for Returnees:
- Boredom: After all the newness and stimulation of your time abroad, a return to family, friends and old routines can seem dull. Try to find ways to overcome it by trying new things, travelling domestically or continuing cultural studies.
- No one wants to hear: One thing you can count on up your return: no one will be as interested in hearing about your adventures and triumphs as you will be in sharing those experiences. Be realistic in your expectations of how fascinating your journey will be for others to listen to. Be brief.
- You can't explain: Even when given a chance to explain all the sights you saw and feeling you had while studying abroad, it's likely to be a bit frustrating to relay them adequately. It can be hard for others to understand who haven't had such an experience. It's ok to fail to make them understand.
- Reverse "homesickness": Just as you probably missed home for a time after arriving overseas, it's as natural to experience the same for the people, places, and things that you grew accustomed to while abroad. While writing, calling and keeping contact can help, but this is a natural part of study abroad.
- Relationships have changed: It is inevitable that when you return you will notice that some relationships with friends and family will have changed. Just like you have changed while abroad, so have things at home. Openness, flexibility, and minimal preconceptions can help prepare you.
- People see the "wrong" changes: Sometimes people may concentrate on small alterations in your behavior or ideas and seem threatened or upset by them. These reactions can be caused by any number of things, but be aware of people's reactions and monitor yourself, and it will likely pass.
- People misunderstand: A few people will misinterpret your words or actions in such a way that communication becomes difficult. Things that may have been normal or acceptable abroad, are seen as offensive or odd at home. Keep conscious of how you look and behave to others and it is interpreted.
- Feeling alienated/seeing with "critical eyes": Sometimes the reality of being back home is not as enjoyable as how you imagined it. Some develop a tendency to see faults at home that you didn't notice before. Mental comparisons are alright just keep them to yourself until you regain a balanced perspective.
- Inability to apply new knowledge and skills: Many returnees are frustrated by the lack of opportunity to apply newly gained social, linguistic, and practical coping skills that appear to be unnecessary or irrelevant at home. However, you can use all the cross cultural adjustment skills to assist your own re-entry.
- Loss/compartmentalization of experience: Being home, combined with the pressures of job, school, family, and friends often conspires to make returnees worried that they might somehow "lose" their experience. By maintaining contacts abroad, practicing cross-cultural skills, sharing with others you can remember and honor your time abroad.
Manifestations of Culture Shock - How you might be feeling/acting:
You may feel:
Unengaged in classes, work, friends, interests
Unreasonably critical of ‘home’ culture
Crying/emotional (more than normal)
Frustrated with self and/or others
Place extreme focus on experience abroad
Tips for Coping with Culture Shock
- Let yourself feel what you’re feeling / give yourself time and space to feel sad without judgment
- Get together with folks from the program
- Read international newspapers online
- Journal/write/creative expressions
- Share your experience with friends/family / campus
- Organize pictures, have a gathering to share photos
- Share experience in class/connect to academics – current and future courses
- Be PROACTIVE! Get involved on campus
- Talk with a professional if desired/needed