Return Culture Shock
Shinto Shrine in Japan
is the most unexpected aspect of study abroad. After all, we can
understand missing family and friends - but we don't expect difficulties
readjusting to life when we return home. Yet, depending on the length
of stay and your engagement with the culture, it is only natural for you to
return a different person.
- Having negotiated
the challenges of living in another country, you may return with
- Having been exposed to
people with different views, different ways of doing things, and
different standards of living, you may return with new perspectives on
life, your culture or how you live your life.
- Having seen great
art or famous wonders of the world, you may have developed an interest
in art, architecture, history or world travel.
When you first return home, you'll feel excited at seeing family and
friends again as well as enjoying all the conveniences of home. But
you have returned a different person. You have wider horizons and
different ways of thinking or doing things. Plus, people quickly tire
of your stories and looking at your photos. They often believe your
hardships are over-exaggerated or that you are boasting when you mention
famous places you have visited. While you were exploring the temples
of Kyoto, hiking the mountains in Romania, or attending plays in London, your friends
were watching re-runs of their favorite show and shopping at the local
mall. At times, conversations may seem stilted.
Aside from internal changes, you may have to readjust to the
conveniences in the U.S. I
know that sounds odd but if you have spent 4-8 months in a culture with
limited choices, you can become overwhelmed when you return to the U.S.
For example, after a year of going to shops that had only 3 bottles of shampoo, I was
literally shocked the first time I went to a drug store that had an aisle
with 5 shelves stocked with shampoo. A colleague who returned from a
former eastern bloc country was so overwhelmed with the options when she
went to buy eggs that she literally put down her basket and went
home! The good news, however, is that you do, in fact, reintegrate
and readjust to being home. You can facilitate that process by
following the steps listed below.
St. Chapelle in Paris
How to cope with Return Culture Shock
- If you're still in
school, join clubs that have international students or have an
- Seek out other
people who have traveled abroad. They may have gone to a
different culture, but they will understand what you experienced -
both abroad and in your return - better than those who have never
- Contact your school
or city paper and volunteer to write a column about your study abroad
- Contact school
teachers and see if you could speak to their students about the
country you lived in (a great place to share some of those 800+
photos you took!)
- If you haven't taken
Intercultural Communication, sign up! It will help you put your
experiences into perspective as well as allow you to share your
experiences with students who may never have traveled abroad.
- If you have
already taken Intercultural Communication, contact the professor and
see if you could give a short presentation or answer questions for
- Most important
of all: recognize that you will reintegrate and readjust to being
home, even though you may not have the same perspectives that you had
before you left.
(class at the Roman Forum - under a tree for the cool shade)
Parents can help with Return Culture Shock
Like Culture Shock, the
depth of this experience is affected by factors such as length abroad, how
different the culture is, how immersed in the country they were, etc.
If your child went overseas for one month, this may not be an issue at all.
Those who go abroad for a semester or more, however, are more likely to be
affected by their experiences on a deeper level.
The two aspects that might
surprise you the most when your child returns from overseas are: (1) after
the initial excitement fades, that they experience some
depression as they readjust to being home and/or (2) that they act
differently (like take their shoes off when they enter a house or
eat different foods). Both are normal effects of living in another
culture for a period of time. Understanding that this is a normal
process is an important step. If they have forgotten about the
process, you can help by reminding them of the steps listed under How to
Cope. Most of all, being patient, offering a listening ear and
encouraging them to understand what they are experiencing will help them
through this process.