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Reverse Culture Shock

Believe it or not, after returning to the states you may experience a period of time where you miss studying abroad and need to readjust to life in the States. Different students experience varying degrees of “reverse culture shock.” Global Ambassadors is a great program to reconnect with other students in this position and provides an outlet to talk nonstop about your study abroad experience to other students who care about what you have to say!

From any travel experience I’ve had, the thing I force myself to remember is that not everyone at home has had the same experience. For example, if my mom has never dealt with the diverse and somewhat high tensions of culture clash in the Middle East, I cannot expect that she’ll understand my grappling with the situation. Or if my friends who have never really left home don’t understand why I keep leaving, I have to understand that it’s an experience they’ve never had. Then, it’s not a matter of being closed off from them, but of trying to express your experiences in a manner that’s relatable to them. Only then is it easy to get over the difficulties and really connect someone to the same story you have in your mind and the same experience that really meant so much to you.

After my first semester abroad, I came back disgusted at the lack of culture in the States, and was dying to go back to Europe. After a semester in Madrid, however, I realized that eight whole months abroad helped me realize what was missing from my life without the states, and I began appreciating the American things I took for granted before. Beach Boys, 24-hour diners, big breakfasts, and the freedom to be who you want to be.

I at first felt a little disgusted with huge supermarkets, and just the overabundance of everything in America in general. But then I realized that if I cannot cope with that, how can I ever hope to bridge a gap between the people I live with and speak with each day, and the special new friends I made in Ghana? To be able to connect the two and make some sort of understanding in my own head and to others, I have to be able to deal with and be proud of where I was born and grew up. Additionally, it was hard to answer big questions like ‘how was Ghana?’ because there was just so much to say. Also, not everyone ‘gets it’ in terms of understanding certain experiences, and how you came to feel a certain way about a place.

I had trouble reconnecting with New York when I returned. It was all too loud, too big, and quite different from the more reserved nature of Prague. For the first week I felt like a stranger in a city I love. No one really discusses with you the difficulties of studying in two different cities and the trouble of returning. In order to reconnect with NYC, I did the things that made me happy: go to my favorite café, take long walks, do some shopping and especially see my friends.

Immediately upon leaving the airport, I made several comments about the sizes of automobiles and the strangeness of the scenery. I was glad to be back in the States, but I couldn’t grasp the concept of having a car available for me (which, despite being a “compact car” here would be one of the largest cars abroad), not living with 14 other students, feeling like every basic task is an adventure, etc. Only initially,I felt sort of distant from my group of friends at home. I guess I coped by sharing lots of stories with them, but eventually I started feeling like I was talking about my experiences too much.

Returning home, I missed a lot of the great parts about the country I was in. In China, [I missed] eating tons of really good food and drinking bubble tea. I missed speaking Chinese and French, being around foreign people all the time, and being stimulated with new ideas.

Going back home was very weird for me. Although I had not been away for that long, everything just looked so different to me and I felt a little bit like a stranger in my own country. My friends and family told me that I was constantly telling them how great London was and how I wanted to go back, which obviously did not make them feel very good. Also I was using quite a few English words (my native language is German), simply because I could not remember the German ones as easily or felt that it was more fitting to express myself in English. While I did not do any of these things to hurt anyone, quite a few people got annoyed with me. You really have to bear in mind that you have been privileged enough to study abroad and not everyone gets a chance to do so. Other people would not even want to go abroad. Therefore, some can get jealous, others are just disinterested. Just bear in mind who it is you are talking to about your experience abroad and respect their feelings. Whenever I had moments of difficulty with reconnecting with home, I just reminded myself that this was a sign of a great accomplishment: I had been able to adapt to another so well that I had become part of it and was now experiencing what some call reverse culture shock.


Changes in Myself

After spending months in a foreign country and being exposed to the local traditions, attitudes, languages, and fashion trends, you will surely notice changes in the way you approach certain issues or react to thoughts and actions of others. Here are some examples of what others have experienced upon their return.

I found that I forgot normal courtesies such as letting others off the subway first before getting on, not jaywalking, etc. I also had to get used to paying tips and adding tax on to all my purchases as well.

Perhaps the biggest thing I have learned from traveling is to always understand who you are from the inside out, but to also remember what people perceive from the outside in.

For me, it was an interesting experience because I’m Chinese, but have grown up in New York City where most of the Chinese population is Cantonese (and more recently, Fujianese). Living and traveling in China showed me how diverse the country really is.

Once you’re submerged into a culture (if you allow yourself to let go enough), you will undoubtedly adopt some of the cultural norms, sometimes subconsciously. In Ghana, I found myself becoming closer to my friends and family (because of the strong familial foundation in Ghanaian culture). My peers and I also adopted new gestures (talking with our hands, emphasizing words etc…) and saying particular Ghanaian sayings about a month after we’d been in country.

Meeting people of all nationalities and backgrounds while in Paris, studying at AUP & traveling, made me realize just exactly how “self-centered” (for lack of better word) the US is. I generally felt that the people I met abroad had a better understanding of world affairs, partially because of their own interest in these matters but also because they are more exposed to it, especially in Europe because of the EU. Travelling also showed me the extent of American corporate imperialism (particularly in Prague). I also really envy the European way of life, which really values relaxation. They make sure to take the time to enjoy themselves, have leisurely meals, enjoy the company of their friends, etc.


Respect Abroad means...

Not surprisingly, we have all encountered the pleasant, not-so-pleasant and sometimes just plain odd aspects of the local cultures at our study abroad sites. However, eventually, most of us come to the realization that the customs and objects abroad are not “weird” but different from what we are accustomed to. Part of a rewarding study abroad experience is growing, learning and being able to accept, respect, and perhaps even celebrate the local specialties of other countries. In our collection of anecdotes, we invite you to get a taste of what we think study and respect abroad is all about.

To me it means being open to different behaviors, going into new situations with an open mind, and showing civility towards others. It means getting used to limited business hours, buying espressos instead of big coffee, eating croissants instead of cereal and milk, driving manual transmission cars instead of automatic, and looking out for scooters while crossing the street.

When you go abroad, you really have to be open to experience new ideas. Respect abroad means being open to beliefs and ideas that you may not personally agree with at first, andbeing able to learn from the new people and experiences that you will have.

It means appreciating the fact that you are not on vacation and realizing that you made a decision to create a new life in a new country with new people for an entire semester. It’s about opening yourself up and being willing to try new things, even if you wouldn’t normally do those things back at home.


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