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For International Participants
Dealing With Reverse Culture Shock
Dealing With Reverse Culture Shock

Dealing With Reverse Culture Shock

March 31, 2017

5 -min read

After immersing yourself in American culture during your exchange program, you may encounter a new challenge upon returning home: reverse culture shock. This experience is common for those who’ve spent significant time abroad, and it’s an important part of your cultural exchange journey.

illustration that highlights the shifts between the experiences of culture shock and reverse culture shock.
The W Curve model illustrates the emotional journey of cultural adjustment when entering a new culture and returning home. Understanding this pattern can help you navigate the ups and downs of your reentry process.

Reverse culture shock can manifest in various ways, from initial excitement about returning home to unexpected nostalgia for your life in the U.S. It’s important to recognize that everyone’s reentry experience is unique, and your reactions may differ from those of your peers. Some may face more challenges than others, while others adjust more easily. We’ve compiled a guide to help you navigate this transition period. Drawing on your valuable experiences abroad, we’re here to support you as you reintegrate into life at home.

Reverse Culture Shock – Language

Transitioning back to your native language after extensive use of English can be unexpectedly challenging. This linguistic adjustment is often one of the first aspects of reverse culture shock you’ll encounter. Be patient with yourself; with regular interactions with friends and family, you’ll likely find your language skills readjusting naturally.

Boredom

While returning to familiar routines can initially feel comforting, you may soon find yourself feeling restless or underwhelmed by your pre-exchange lifestyle. This sense of boredom is a common reaction after experiencing the stimulation and novelty of living abroad. Recognize these feelings as a natural part of your readjustment process and an opportunity for personal growth.

Reverse homesickness

It’s common to experience a sense of nostalgia for your life in the U.S. – missing the food, friends, and places that became part of your daily experience. This “reverse homesickness” is a natural response to the meaningful connections and experiences you’ve had. Balancing ongoing communication with your U.S. friends and engaging fully in your home life can help you process these emotions constructively.

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. Connecting with others could also be a little confusing, 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 not easy to convey your experience 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.

Tips for Returning Home

Anticipate the challenge.

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 time to get over the jetlag. Being tired can make the effects of reverse culture shock much worse.

Keep busy.

Once you’ve let yourself relax a bit and adjust to being home, try to move past any stressful or negative feelings and keep yourself busy. Returning to your old activities, whether school, your job, exercising, hobbies, or 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 you 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 like this. Show them pictures from your trip and share souvenirs. Try not to alienate them by only speaking of your recent travel experience.

Connect and network.

Find others in the same situation. Talk with those who have returned from similar experiences and share them. 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 also changed. In adjusting to life in the U.S., your habits and perceptions may have evolved without you knowing it. Life continued while you were on your 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 new friends with whom you may have an easier time connecting after your experience abroad – it’s OK to maintain old friendships while building new ones.

Keep in touch.

You should 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 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.

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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.

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