Before you left to study in the US, you probably had a lot of people warning you about the effects of culture shock, the feeling of adjusting to a new place when you arrive for the first time. What they might not have told you, however, is that culture shock can also affect international students upon their return home. This phenomenon is known as “reverse culture shock.”
Reverse culture shock generally consists of feeling out of place in your home country, or experiencing a sense of disorientation. Although everything around you is familiar, you feel different.
Common effects of reverse culture shock include:
- Extreme jet lag
- Surprise at what has or hasn’t changed
- Feeling misunderstood
- Homesickness for your US school
You might find traveling back to your own time zone even more disconcerting than moving out of it in the first place. You will probably need at least a week to adjust.
To deal with this feeling of extreme jet lag, sleep when you feel you need it, and try to keep active when you’re awake. You will probably find that your body’s internal clock will be slightly out of whack for a little while, but eventually you will get back in the swing of things.
Dealing With Change—Or Lack Thereof
A lot has changed for you during your time away—you’ve moved to an entirely new country, adjusted to a new culture, made friends, and earned a degree in a foreign country. It is natural to expect things at home to have changed just as much as you feel you have.
In reality, you will probably find that things have not changed quite as much as you expected them to. The sense that everything is exactly the same as when you left can be disconcerting, and can make returning home a rather underwhelming experience. The best way to counteract these feelings is to keep yourself busy, so you don’t find yourself with nothing to do and too much time on your hands.
People you were close to when you left—even those you kept in contact with during your time away—might be separated from you by the unique experiences you have each had in your absence. You might find yourself getting annoyed by having to answer the same questions over and over from different people. People will naturally be curious about your time away, so try to be patient and remember that not everyone you meet has been to the US, and most will be curious about your time away.
Because many people you know back home have not been to the US, don’t be surprised if they don’t necessarily understand your stories about college life. You might feel misunderstood by those around you, but this feeling will pass as long as you’re patient. In the meantime, it might be a good idea to keep in touch with your fellow international students and college friends, so you don’t feel entirely isolated.
In spite of enjoying being back at home, you might find yourself pining for your college life. This is perfectly normal, and usually a result of the “grass is greener syndrome.” Just as it is possible to dramatize the glory of returning home, it is also possible to over-romanticize your experience abroad. Remember that nothing is ever perfect, and your life would still not be flawless even if you were back at school in the US.
Dealing With Reverse Culture Shock
Fitting your new life into your old life can be frustrating; it’s easy to become frustrated with aspects of your home culture that no longer make sense to you. Try to keep things in perspective; remember that every country has its flaws and its strengths.
Returning home is wonderful in many ways; you can spend time with your family and friends, eat at your favorite restaurants, and sleep in your own bed. Try to focus on the good of returning home, rather than dwelling on the bad.
Things that might make your return easier include:
- Talking to others who have studied abroad
- Keeping in touch with the friends you made while abroad
- Being patient with yourselves and others
For a look at what it's like to return home after studying abroad, take a look at this international student's account of returning home to Germany after studying in the US.
Returning home after a long time away can be hard, but with time and patience you will readjust.