International and Immigrant Students: Plan for Cultural Adjustments When Leaving the U.S.
Reverse Culture Shock Returning to Your Home Country
After returning home from your study in the United States you will likely experience what is known as "re-entry shock" or "reverse culture shock."
- Reverse culture shock may surprise you who return home after you study in the United States and return to your native culture.
- Remember that you adapted to the U.S. culture while you here, as would anyone who spends several months (or years) in another country. Readjusting to home may be as difficult as it was to adjust to America.
Signs of Reverse Culture Shock
Students returning to their own culture have identified culture shock with some of the following challenges:
- "No one wants to hear about this"
- It's hard to explain
- Reverse homesickness
- Changed relationships
- People see the "wrong" changes
- People misunderstand if you adopt elements of your host culture; they misinterpret your behavior
- Feelings of alienation; seeing home with critical eyes
- Inability to apply new knowledge and skills
- Fear of losing the experience, storing it away in a souvenir box that you occasionally review
These feelings are all perfectly normal. In fact, they signal that you had a successful study abroad experience in which you grew, changed, and developed new perspectives on life. However, just because these feelings are normal does not mean that they are enjoyable, and if you're experiencing them, you're probably eager to figure out how to move as quickly as possible from the "reverse culture shock" stage to the more comfortable re-adjustment stage.
Stages of Reverse Culture Shock
- The symptoms of reverse culture shock begin before you even leave America. As your time in the US begins to dwindle, you will start to disengage and think about returning home.
- When you step off the plane you are excited to be back, but that tapers as you find out your friends and family don’t seem as interested in your experiences as you had hoped. That turns into disappointment and loneliness as you realize your home country isn’t as idyllic as you remembered. You may feel like a stranger in your own country.
- Gradually you’ll readjust, and your home culture will again feel normal. If you spoke a foreign language while studying abroad, you’ll find that your native language will have improved by this time.
Coping with Reverse Culture Shock
Going home after studying abroad is not an easy task. Just like moving abroad, returning to your home country can be another culture shock. So it is important to be prepared for it. The better you adjusted to American customs and culture, the worse you will find the reverse culture shock. You’ll miss your new friends and may find your conversation a combination of your native and foreign languages.
- A few weeks before you return home, start reading articles in online newspapers from your home country. This will provide you with an update on current events at home.
- When you return, keep in contact with other students who have studied in another country. They’ll understand what you’re going through, and you can exchange stories about your overseas adventures and your U.S. education.
- After your study in the U.S. you may realize that you now embody a bit of both your native culture and that of the United States. As in the example below, the student is no longer "really" German, and has become more "North American." So coming home is similar to coming to another culture, especially because many people lose their perspective for their culture while living abroad. So many people will miss their home while being abroad - but that has a tendency to be an idealized home. Once they move back, they are confronted with the reality.
- "When coming home after a 5-year stay in the United States, I was really happy at first. Although I loved being there - I really missed home a lot. And then it seemed so great to have all the things back that I have missed for so long. But after a month, things seemed to get worse - I was very miserable, got depressed and missed the United States. The people appeared strange, and even my family and friends, whom I have missed for so long, started to upset me", says, Woo Yeong a Korean student.
- This type of reaction is unfortunately not uncommon - many expatriates face the situation when returning home. After a short while of being enthusiastic about being home again, they feel increasingly isolated and frustrated with their home environment. What is happening is, in fact, a second culture shock.
- While you were gone, your old friends may have changed for moved away or your city could have changed. Expect differences and adjust to them in the same way you adjusted to living in America.
- While studying in the United States, you learned a lot, become acculturated in U.S. culture, and became accustomed to a different behavior, but your friends and the family at home did not have those experiences. Whereas you may have changed behavior quite drastically, your relatives at home have probably not. You may appear different to your friends and relatives upon returning home, just as they may appear strange to you.
- Studying abroad has taught you new skills and made you more independent. Remember that as you readjust to living in your home country again and overcome reverse culture shock.
You may be expected to fit back into your family but find it difficult to communicate effectively because your family has not shared your overseas experiences. Your family may not adjust well to your new independence and changed values.
- Share your experience through photos, stories, etc.
- Let your family know how much you appreciate the chance they have given you to grow in new ways by living, studying, and traveling overseas.
You and your friends may no longer be as close. You need to be sensitive about discussing your experience with them. You may also miss the new friends you made while overseas.
- Ask and listen to what your friends have experienced while you were away.
- Ask to be brought up to date on local events.
- Try to do new things together to get the relationship on a new footing.
- Write to your new friends and try to involve them somewhat in your home life or make plans to visit them again.
You may look colleges and universities in your home campus in a new light.
- * Seek out other students who have studied overseas.
Your home culture may no longer be entirely to your liking, and you may have the sense that you no longer fit in. In the future you will probably continue to evaluate ideas and events in the context of the broader cultural perspective you have acquired.
- Come to terms with the fact that we all tend to look past the shortcomings of our home culture when we are away, and tend to criticize it on the basis of changed perceptions when we return.
- Seek out others on your campus with interest in international and intercultural matters.
- Keep up with your host country by means of news, reading, friends, etc.
You have become accustomed to a high level of activity and anticipation that your home and campus probably cannot match. You may feel restless or a bit depressed for a while after your return.
- Recuperate from the physical journey
- Think over the ways you have changed
- Which of those do you like
- What did you learn about yourself
- How have your family and friends at home reacted to the new you
- Keep a journal so you can see your thought processes evolve.