Coming back from studying abroad is almost never easy. Personally, I felt even more culture shock returning home than I did when I came to Scotland. Home felt like a foreign country. I missed my friends from Edinburgh. I missed traveling. I missed everything. For a full quarter I felt like I was struggling to adjust back to everyday life.
What does reverse-culture shock feel like?
Everyone experiences their return home differently. Reverse-culture shock (also known as re-entry shock) may include feeling alienated from those around you and feeling negativity towards the United States (or whatever your home country is). You may also feel restless, depressed, and/or uncertain about the future. It can feel like your friends and family don’t really understand your experience abroad, or that they quickly tire of hearing about your experience. This can be very difficult, because a key part of processing your experience abroad is talking about it, and hearing statements such as, “We get it, you studied abroad,” can invalidate your feelings and discourage you from opening up.
Again, everyone experiences reverse-culture shock differently, so these are only examples of what you may be feeling.
What can you do to aid readjustment?
For the most recent batch of study abroad students, this question is a bit more difficult. Not only was your journey cut short, but now you are likely stuck indoors with limited access to friends and activities.
Please hear me out, because there is an upside to this situation: time. You may still have a few projects or essays to finish up, but let’s face it, you are going to have a lot of time on your hands. Rather than having to immediately return to your home university and back to the chaotic lifestyle of college, you will actually have the time needed to process your experience and your feelings.
Here are a few tips on overcoming reverse-culture shock, and reverse-home sickness in this new and strange climate:
1. Try to focus on the positive.
What an annoying statement. Nothing bothers me more when I am upset than when someone says something along the lines of, “Be positive!”, or “At least you’re not starving,” or something like that.
I am not telling you to ignore any negative feelings you may be experiencing now. But also take the time to think about the positive experiences you have had. Remember what you felt as you looked out over the Cliffs of Moher, or just laughed freely with your new friends at a pub. Think about all the positive relationships you’ve made, possibly with people all over the world.
Rather than dwelling on time lost, focus on the time that you did have.
2. Organize your photos.
This is one way to help you focus on the positive. Unless, like me, you always forget to take photos, you likely have an avalanche of pictures and videos from your time abroad, and now you probably have plenty of free time on your hands. Look through those photos. Print them out and hang them in your room, create an album on social media to share with your friends and family, or even create a scrapbook from them. You’ll always have something to remember your time abroad, and seeing the photos of your happy memories will remind you of the positive aspects of your journey.
If you were studying abroad in the UK or Ireland this Spring semester, you can even enter your abroad photos in our photo competition by April 10 for a chance to be featured on our Instagram account and win an Amazon gift card. Enter the competition by emailing a photo of one of your favorite memories abroad along with a brief caption that provides a reflection of the memory and/or your time abroad to firstname.lastname@example.org.
3. Talk to other people who have studied abroad.
Nothing feels more relieving than finally finding someone who understands and can relate to what you are going through. If you have access to a phone or computer, call the friends you made abroad. They miss you as much as you miss them.
If you know other people who are in the same boat as you, call them, Facetime them, message them. While it may feel like others don’t understand what you are going through, other study abroad participants will, and they will be just as relieved as you are to speak to someone about it.
4. Make a travel bucket list.
The day after I returned from my study abroad journey in Scotland, I looked for hours at plane tickets back to Scotland. Unfortunately, with the current situation, this probably is not possible (also, it really did not help me adjust back to my life in California). But you have inevitably caught the travel bug after being in Europe, so now what do you do?
Make a travel bucket list! Plan your next big adventure!
The world will not be on lockdown forever. In time, this will pass. When it does, be ready with a plan for your next big adventure. Here is an idea of how to go about making your list.
- Jot down all the places you wanted to go while you were abroad
- Within each place, write down specific things that you wanted to do:
- Monuments, museums, art galleries you wanted to visit
- Hikes you wanted to try out
- Food you were keen to try
- Do more research:
- Travel blogs
- Travel books
- The internet is full of travel advice. Search “top European destinations on a budget”, “best hidden gems in Europe”, “best hikes in ___”. There is a bottomless pit of travel advice and destinations, just waiting to be sorted through
- Make an itinerary
- Plan out your trip! Use language such as “Day 1”, rather than using specific dates. Spell out a 4-day trip to Amsterdam, or a full 3-week trip to Europe.
Through the process of creating your travel bucket list, you will help satisfy your travel bug by knowing you have travel to look forward to in the future, and it will help remind you that these times will eventually pass.
5. Write down what you are feeling.
Sometimes putting your feelings into words can be difficult. I find that writing everything down can help me sort through my thoughts and process emotions more effectively. You could write about specific memories you have from abroad, how you are feeling in this moment, your fears about the situation, what you will miss the most—whatever comes to your mind.
On my flight home, I wrote down specific details that I didn’t want to forget from my time abroad (while attracting concerned looks from passengers as I wailed mournfully into my travel journal), such as landmarks on my walk to class, the way you had to kick the door just right to get into my flat, Tuesday lunches at Snax Cafe with my friend. It both helped me process going home in the moment and gave me something to remember fondly when I went back through and read my journal entries.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that what you are feeling is completely normal. Though you probably heard about culture shock before arrival, reverse-culture shock isn’t something that is normally talked about but can be just as jarring as the initial culture shock.
Use this era of social distancing to process your experience abroad, and remember, these times will pass.
Stay positive. Stay safe. Stay healthy ❤
Here are some additional resources explaining reverse-culture shock and how to handle it.
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