Dr. Linda Seward
Speech and Theatre Department
Middle Tennessee State University
37132

 

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Return Culture Shock

Shinto Shrine in Japan

 

            This 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 greater self-confidence.
  • 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 international focus. 
  • 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 traveled abroad.
  • Contact your school or city paper and volunteer to write a column about your study abroad experiences.
  • 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 students.
  •  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)

How 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.

Students in London with scarves

                            Students getting ready to tour the Islamic Cultural Centre in London.