Though you might have dealt with “culture shock” when you began your cultural exchange program, you may experience similar feelings upon your return home. Reverse culture shock is a phenomenon experienced by those returning to their home country after spending substantial time living abroad.
Feelings related to reverse culture shock could range from euphoria upon returning home to reverse homesickness, where you miss the people, places, and way of life in the country in which you temporarily lived. It’s important to keep in mind that everyone experiences the reentry process differently, so your reactions may differ from your friends. You might experience some of the symptoms of reverse culture shock more than others, or not at all. We’ve compiled a list of some of the challenges faced as well as some tips for dealing with them. With a memorable cultural experience behind you, we hope that you will be able to reintegrate into your life at home smoothly.
You might find yourself feeling a bit tongue-tied when you first get home. If you don’t speak English in your home country, it will be a bit of a shock to transition from using English to your own language. This is one of the more immediate effects of reverse culture shock. After some time talking with friends and family, you should begin to adjust.
Even though your old routine might be a welcomed comfort at first, it’s not unusual for you to find your former way of life somewhat dull. You just came back from a new and fun experience, so it’s natural for home to feel unexciting or mundane.
Upon your return home, it’s normal to miss aspects of your life in the U.S. such as the food, friends you made, and places you visited. These feelings of loss and longing are normal. Keeping in contact with friends you have made in the U.S. while still keeping busy in your home country will help you manage these feelings.
Withdrawal or alienation
It’s OK to feel this way. Sometimes being back home isn’t exactly how you expected it to be and you don’t feel like you quite fit in the way you did before you left. Since you’ve become so accustomed to American life, you might even find yourself being critical of your own culture or the people around you. Whether you were away for a month or a year, it’s normal to feel a bit out of touch and want to isolate yourself.
Feelings of rejection and confusion
A very common feeling that many abroad returnees have is, “No one wants to hear about my experience.” While you will find the urge to constantly bring up your experience in conversation with friends and relive your adventures, the people around you will likely not maintain interest beyond an anecdote or two. This is not a rejection of your experience or something you should take personally. It could also be a little confusing to connect with others, as you may not have stayed informed of what was happening at home while you were away, such as a social event or the news. You might also find that it is difficult to convey the experience you had to others. You can always talk to friends who may have also just returned or those who have had similar international experiences in the past, such as your fellow InterExchange alumni.
Just as you came to the U.S. knowing that you might experience symptoms of culture shock, expect that you will also have an adjustment period upon your return home.
Get some rest and relax
If there is a time difference between the U.S. and your home country, be mindful of this. Catch up on sleep and give yourself some time to get over the jetlag. Being tired can make the effects of reverse culture shock much worse.
Once you’ve let yourself relax a bit and adjust to being home, try and move past any stressful or negative feelings and keep yourself busy. Get back into your old activities, whether it is school, your job, exercising, hobbies, or even just spending time with family and friends. You could also start participating in new activities that may be more interesting to you since completing your experience abroad. Discover new parts of your home country and appreciate the parts already know. You can still have fun and be adventurous at home!
Share your experience
Talking to your close friends and family about your trip can be helpful. The people who know you best can help you through a transition such as this one. Show them pictures from your trip and share souvenirs.
Connect and network
Find others in the same situation. Talk with those who have come back from similar experiences and share them with each other. These individuals will have similar frames of reference and can relate to what you are going through. You can exchange stories from your trips or even share frustrations. Consider joining one of our alumni networks.
Accept that relationships may have changed
As you reconnect with old friends, you might notice that some of your relationships may have changed, and you may have changed as well. In adjusting to life in the U.S., your habits and perceptions may have evolved without your knowing it. Believe it or not, life continued while you were on your internship/training program in the U.S. Try to be flexible, patient, and optimistic in your interactions with those around you. Also, it's perfectly fine to make some more new friends with whom you may have an easier time connecting after you experience abroad - it's OK to maintain old friendships while building new ones.
Keep in touch
You should absolutely keep in touch with friends and colleagues from your U.S. experience; however, do not let it get in the way of you reconnecting with your old life. Sometimes talking too often to friends and colleagues in the U.S. will make it harder for you to move on. Just as you might have noticed that talking to your family while in the U.S. every day made it harder for you to adjust to life in the U.S., the same principle applies here. Maintain your connections to the U.S. but make sure you are still embracing the present instead of dwelling on the past.
Integrate aspects of your experience into your daily life
If you’re missing the U.S., try to incorporate a few of those habits into your life. For example, did you love peanut butter? Bring a couple of jars back and continue having your breakfast of toast with peanut butter that you became so accustomed to eating. Did you enjoy Sunday brunch? Prepare one for your friends back home. Part of the reentry process is accepting that you are no longer in the U.S., so while holding on to some traditions is okay, don’t overdo it. You can also incorporate your new knowledge, skills, and insights into your life at home.
Focus on the positive changes
You should not be sad that your experience is over; be happy that it happened! Think about the friends you made, places you have seen, and the new skills and perspectives you have gained in the U.S.
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.