Reverse Culture Shock and Re-entry Stress

Students returning home from their time abroad often experience feelings and reactions similar to those that they first felt overseas, an experience commonly referred to as “reverse culture shock.”  Although most expect to adjust to a new environment, they are surprised and unprepared to have to readjust to home. You may find that you have grown and changed in ways that those in your social group have not, or that you’ve gained a new perspective on the world that others may not fully understand. Many students feel a sense of boredom after months of excitement and stimulation, or a sense of frustration that their newly acquired skills and experience don’t apply to their current situation. Here are some tips for dealing with re-entry stress and reverse culture shock:

  • Talk with others who have come back from abroad and share your experiences, frustration, and joys. These are the people who can help you through it.
  • Accept that you have changed and that things are not going to be the same as when you left and that that’s a good thing.
  • Don’t isolate, brood, or dwell on the past.
  • Try new things. If you return to the same place a different person, redefine the place.  Take up a new hobby, residence, sport, mode of transport.
  • Keep your memories alive – don’t store them away in a shoe box.  It wasn’t a dream and it was important.
  • Find ways to integrate Chinese food, film, and culture into your everyday life.
  • Write down what you thought was great about the US while you were abroad.
  • Use your cross-cultural study-abroad skills to observe your own culture.
  • Don’t let failures in your home culture be any less a learning experience than they would have been while you were abroad.
  • Continue to reflect on what you learned abroad.
  • Focus on how you are now better off from the experiences you have had.
  • Look for the good in the present situation.
  • Don’t be upset if people seem indifferent to your experience abroad.
  • Recognize that things at home have changed while you were away and respect those changes. No one’s life went on hold just because you were gone, and his or her experiences are important to him or her.
  • Don’t talk about what happened abroad unless your listener wants to hear it.  Find a confidant if you can.
  • Rekindle the spirit of adventure you had abroad.  Explore your home country, state, city, or even neighborhood.
  • Go out of your way to make new friends, just as you did abroad.
  • Try to apply what you learned abroad to your life here.  What can be saved?  What is useful?
  • You will need to “rebuild” relationships, not merely “resume” them.

Keep in mind how the initial culture shock of your host country faded; your re-entry shock will too!