Some students find that coming home can sometimes feel even more difficult than leaving in the first place. Now that you're back you might notice some things that were once familiar have become foreign. Hearing new songs on the radio, new fashion trends, new slang, etc. can trigger feelings of being out of place or having missed timely experiences while away. Don't ignore these sentiments and know that they are not unusual and all people go through these feelings, especially when they spend a significant amount of time away from any place. Look out for the following:
• "Reverse homesickness." This happens when students deeply miss their new friends, host families, and the city where they lived during their study away experience.
• "Relationships have changed." When students return home, they may experience a change in the relationships that they had with their family and/or friends. Many students expect that everything will be exactly the same when they return home, neglecting that much can change in four to six months.
• "You can’t explain." Some friends and family will be extremely open to hearing stories and seeing pictures, yet students returning from study away often find it frustratingly difficult to put their experience into words, especially if the friends and/or family members in question have not traveled much.
• "People misunderstand." Accidentally using a foreign language, wearing a new hairstyle or new clothing, etc. may be seen as showing off, whereas to the returning student, these behaviors are completely normal.
• "Feelings of alienation." When students return from studying abroad, many develop new dislikes for aspects of their home country. Many students become hypercritical and constantly reminisce about how things in their study away site were much better than they are in their home country.
• "Boredom." Students return from a semester of adventure and excitement, where each day brought a new challenge and learning opportunity. Many students return to their “old routine” with their family and friends and are disillusioned with how uninteresting life can feel in their home country.
Rather than focusing on the shock of coming back, learn how to address these issues in a productive and proactive manner. From the start, instead of thinking about your transition as reverse culture shock think about it as a time in your life where you experience change. Rather than feeling shocked, approach it as a way to expand on these feelings and turn them into a positive learning moment and area of growth.
One unique way to look at this is that you are using your “emotional passport” (Abarbanel, 2009). Having an emotional passport means acquiring skills to regulate intense emotional challenges experienced in cultural transitions, such as studying away. Here are some activities that you can do on your own, read through to get ideas, or use for later.
Abarbanel, J. (2009). Moving with emotional resilience between and within cultures.
Intercultural Education, (20)S1–S2, S133–141.
Dr. Bruce La Brack's site What's Up with Culture