Embracing Reverse Culture Shock

4 minute read

Having a fantastic time abroad can make it difficult to return home.
Having a fantastic time abroad can make it difficult to return home.
Image courtesy of Haley B.

Reverse Culture Shock

It’s a complicated thing to return to the familiarity of home and find that life did not stop while you were gone. But the end of an epic adventure abroad doesn’t need to be a bad thing! Arm yourself with the knowledge of what to expect upon your return for a smoother transition home.

So how do you handle the challenges of re-entry into your normal life? First, reflect and build on vast array of experiences from your time abroad, and celebrate your achievement! Oftentimes, international travel brings us closer to ourselves. Take time to think about all you learned about yourself and consider some of these tips as they apply to you:

Continue learning your host language

Returning to your primary language can be a relief, it takes effort to speak a secondary language each day! It also shows how important immersion often is to really learn a new language, so don’t let your new skill completely fade away. Follow the old phrase “you use it or you lose it,” and take advantage of the many in-person and virtual ways to practice your language.

  • Join the free InterExchange Language Partner Program. Speaking with fellow InterExchange alumni from around the world about your travels and hearing about their adventures is a great way to combat those post-program-blues.
  • Join a language or culture Meetup.
  • Listen to music from your host country. This is a great way to finesse your ear to understand regional accents and dialects you may not have encountered in your local town or city.
  • Check out these awesome language learning podcasts, or download a language learning app on your smartphone!
  • Watch movies in your host country’s language. (Bonus points if you take that pop-culture knowledge to a language or culture meetup!)

Continue engaging with your host culture

You might be missing some of your favorite parts of life abroad: the friends you made, the hosts that became your second family, the amazing places, and your favorite delicious foods.

  • Connect with international Exchange Visitors by joining InterExchange events around the U.S.
  • Locate other events attended by international travelers on sites like Couchsurfing.
  • Stay in touch with your friends and contacts from abroad to let them know how your transition is going, and keep up with how they are as well!
  • Send thank-you notes and letters to anyone who was particularly supportive while you were abroad. Letter writing is a tangible and often beautiful way to keep making memories with your international friends. Get creative and write in your host language, incorporate drawings, or send photos to add a truly personal touch.

Involve others in your experience

You may experience the all-too-common frustration that your friends and family at home can’t connect with your stories from abroad. How could anyone expect a short answer to the question “How was your trip?” Know that these experiences are very normal, and try following these tips.

  • When talking about your host community, remember that much of the time you are expressing personal observations and opinions. “I felt as if” and “To me it seemed like” are phrases that keep conversations open.
  • Involve your conversation partner in the topic of your travels by considering their interests. Tell them shorter stories they might find the most fascinating, and remember that the art of storytelling is the most fun when the listener is involved. Weave them into the narrative and keep them feeling involved in the conversation. This is a great way to include your friends and family in many shorter retellings over time, and avoid giving them travel abroad story fatigue.
  • Capture and share your experience outside of conversation. Create art, write a reflective essay, create a captioned photo story, and journal about favorite moments, places, and interactions.
  • Humble yourself. Reminiscing with friends about challenging moments abroad can be a strong connecting point, especially when talking with friends who may not have the same travel experience as you. Recounting challenges and how you worked (or struggled) through them can connect your friend to an experience that will help them relate!

Engage back home

The concept and feeling of home can change when we travel, and you might sometimes feel alienated or withdrawn. This is normal. It’s also easy to get into the habit of measuring your life back home against your experience abroad; it is necessary in these moments to remember that our world is diverse and different, and that is a good thing!

  • Find ways to celebrate the things you most appreciate about your home. Coming back with fresh eyes can give you a new perspective to view your home town, use that to your advantage and observe things you might have taken for granted before.
  • Revisit favorite spots and favorite foods!
  • Connect with a friend whom you haven’t seen in awhile.
  • Support your friends’ newest life projects!

Additional resources

InterExchange Staff By

InterExchange is proud to have an experienced team that is dedicated to international cultural exchange. We come from a variety of backgrounds, but nearly every member of our New York City-based staff has extensive experience traveling, working, or living abroad.

U.S. Department of State-Designated J-1 Visa Sponsor
Alliance for International Exchange
The International Coalition for Global Education and Exchange
European-American Chamber of Commerce New York
Global Ties U.S.
International Au Pair Association
WYSE Travel Confederation