Reverse Culture Shock and How to Deal with It | Top Universities

Reverse Culture Shock and How to Deal with It

By Julia J

Updated March 27, 2021 Updated March 27, 2021

I can’t express how glad I am to have studied abroad. Before I left for Scotland to start my degree, I hadn’t lived abroad for an extended period of time. I knew I was going to have to adjust to a completely different educational system and learn to survive in a whole new place.

What I wasn’t prepared for, however, is how it can be just as challenging when you come back home.

It can be hard to readjust to the way things are back home after you’ve travelled, met a lot of new people and had so many new experiences. This feeling of dealing with the sudden change in pace now the adventure is over is called reverse culture shock and it’s fairly common.

Reverse culture shock can produce anxiety, especially when you feel like your experience abroad has changed you but your family and friends naturally expect you to be the exact same person you were before you left. It can also produce a feeling of guilt, as you expect yourself to be excited to be back, but instead you may feel strange and lonely.

For me reverse culture shock came in different shapes. I found adjusting to the way of life in a foreign place quite easy but when I came home I found myself feeling like a foreigner in my own country.

My major problem was that I idealised home and naively thought my friends and family only wanted to hear about my time abroad. It was hard for me to see that, although I had independence when I’m abroad, at home I had to adjust back to living with my parents again and give up some of that independence.

On top of that, when you’re abroad travelling, your friends probably experienced different kinds of changes in their lives. It can be difficult to understand that your lives may not be as similar as they were before anymore, but there’s nothing wrong with that.

Elspeth Beard, the first British woman to motorcycle around the world, writes beautifully about that disappointment and feeling out of place in her book The Lone Rider. She describes feeling lost in her life after returning from a two-year journey around the world and being disappointed with her family’s lack of interest in her adventures. On top of that, Beard described how removed she felt from her friends’ lives and struggled to find things they still had in common.

Although I wasn’t away for as long as Beard, what she wrote is surprisingly relatable. Many times I felt lonely and disappointed that my family would rather go about their day than listen to my stories. Thanks to her book, I learned that it’s only natural to feel this way and struggle to find a place for yourself after a long absence.

If you’re heading home from some time abroad, here’s how you can deal with reverse culture shock and make coming back home less stressful.

Embrace your experience

Don’t be afraid of talking about your time abroad and how it changed you. Your friends will definitely be happy to hear about it and you may even motivate someone else to go abroad as well. As long as you don’t bore them with stories about yourself for hours on end, you should all be fine.

If you feel like sharing with more people you can also give a talk at your university or school about your experience to motivate other people to go or write about it in a school newspaper or on a blog.

Take time to reconnect

As hard as it is to process sometimes, your friends and family had their own lives when you were away. You will be anxious to tell them all about your time abroad but remember to also take time to listen to their stories and problems.

Spending more time with family and friends will help you feel comfortable at home again. It will also ease the post study abroad blues if you happen to have them.

Appreciate it

Coming back from a long time abroad is a rare opportunity to see your own culture with different eyes and appreciate it. Things you didn’t notice or question before may suddenly seem interesting or odd.

When I was in Scotland, I loved the welcoming openness of the British people. At first, coming back to my native Poland I thought Polish people seem cold and reserved in comparison. Only after giving it some thought, I saw that we are indeed friendly, but it takes longer for us to trust a new person. I think both approaches have their advantages and I enjoy being able to take the best from both cultures.

Some aspects of reverse culture shock will almost certainly affect you when coming back from your time abroad, but remember that it’s coming back home that makes the adventure you had worth having.

This article was originally published in May 2018 . It was last updated in March 2021

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