Reverse Culture Shock and Re-Entry Strategies
After the initial "honeymoon stage" of being home has passed, students often experience "re-entry shock" or "reverse culture shock."
Similar to the period of cultural adjustment you went through after first arriving in your study abroad location, you might experience:
- Difficulty articulating your experience
- Reverse homesickness
- Changed relationships
- Feelings of alienation
- Inability to apply new knowledge and skills
- Fear of losing the experience
- Critical/negative views of your culture
These feelings are all perfectly normal; in fact, they signal that you had a successful study abroad experience in which you grew, changed, and developed new perspectives on life. If you're experiencing these feelings, you're probably eager to figure out how to move as quickly as possible from the "reverse culture shock" stage to the more comfortable re-adjustment stage.
Re-entry strategies: coping with reverse culture shock
It is important that you give yourself sufficient time to reflect on and process your study abroad experience internally. If you kept a journal while you were abroad, continue keeping it once you return home. Whether you process your experience in writing or just in thought, these questions should help you reflect and learn.
- In what ways have I changed?
- I have a new sense of autonomy; I can be comfortable and confident almost anywhere.
- I feel more responsible about my lifestyle choices.
- I feel more (or less) focused about my career interests.
- I have more interest in international politics.
- I am more interested in social issues.
- In what ways might my friends and family have changed?
- What are the lessons I have learned that I never want to forget?
- What are some skills I have learned?
- What are some things I might do to make the transition easier?
- What have been the important things about this experience that I want to share with family and friends?
- What new experiences did I have while abroad that shocked or surprised me about the world?
- How do I feel now about those experiences after returning to the U.S.?
- Are there certain stereotypes that I have let go of? Kept? Modified?
- How did my experience abroad make me think differently about the U.S.? What made me feel most foreign abroad?
- What makes me feel most "foreign" back in the U.S.?
Some areas of your life might present new opportunities for understanding and personal growth. Consider the following challenges and strategies to facilitate re-entry.
You may be expected to fit back into your family but find it difficult to communicate effectively because your family has not shared your overseas experiences. Your family may not adjust well to your new independence and changed values.
- Share your experience through photos, stories, etc.
- Let your family know how much you appreciate the chance they have given you to grow in new ways by living, studying, and traveling overseas.
You and your friends may no longer be as close. You need to be sensitive about discussing your experience with them. You may also miss the new friends you made while overseas.
- Ask and listen to what your friends have experienced while you were away.
- Ask to be brought up to date on local events.
- Try to do new things together to get the relationship on a new footing.
- Write to your new friends and try to involve them somewhat in your home life or make plans to visit them again.
You may look at your home campus in a new light. You may also miss the feeling of being part of a close-knit group of students.
- Talk over your academic experience with your adviser, especially if you are considering new career goals.
- Seek out the International Office to see about making contact with international students on your campus.
- Talk with the Study Abroad Office so that you can offer your expertise to students who plan to study abroad.
- Seek out other students who have studied overseas.
In addition, try to choose university courses that will allow you to build on your study abroad experience, such as language courses, regional studies courses, and writing courses. You may even want to talk to your adviser in your major department about writing a senior (honors) thesis based on a topic you studied abroad!
Your home culture may no longer be entirely to your liking, and you may have the sense that you no longer fit in. In the future you will probably continue to evaluate ideas and events in the context of the broader cultural perspective you have acquired.
- Come to terms with the fact that we all tend to look past the shortcomings of our home culture when we are away, and tend to criticize it on the basis of changed perceptions when we return.
- Seek out others on your campus with interest in international and intercultural matters.
- Keep up with your host country by means of news, reading, friends, etc.
You’ve become accustomed to a high level of activity and anticipation that your home and campus probably can’t match. You may feel restless or a bit depressed for a while after your return.
- Think of the ways you have changed -- which of those do you like?
- What did you learn about yourself? How have your family and friends at home reacted to the new you?
- Keep a journal so you can see your thought processes evolve.
- Keep your sense of humor!
- Be flexible and open-minded.
- Maintain a healthy diet and incorporate exercise into your daily life.
- Write about your experiences abroad
If you enjoy writing about your experiences abroad, you may want to try turning some of your reflections into stories, articles, or poetry. Consider submitting your writing to publications that publish student work:
If you are having significant difficulty re-adjusting, Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) offers additional support.
Meet with an adviser who specializes in cross-cultural adjustment. Call 847-491-2151 to set up an appointment.