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Reverse Culture Shock after Studying Abroad

Before leaving for my study abroad trip we were taught about the many challenges that we could possibly face including culture shock and to my surprise, reverse culture shock. 

Culture shock is when you’re having a hard time adjusting to the way of life in your host country. It may make you feel homesick, frustrated, and sad. I definitely felt all of that. But they explained how the same thing can happen when you come back home. While being away, you change; you reform ideas, learn new things, make new friendships, and so much more. Coming back can be harder because you don’t fit back into the mold the same as when you left. 

The whole time they were explaining I thought it was a stupid concept and would’ve bet money that I wouldn’t go through that. My life at home is pretty dynamic and I didn’t think that coming back would be too different.

Well, from the fact that I am currently crying (not kidding) and that I genuinely don’t feel like talking to anyone outside of my family, I would say that I am experiencing some kind of reverse culture shock and it’s really annoying. 

Overall, there is an on and off feeling of frustration. There are things that I want to say, but I can’t find a way to express them. Hanging out or even talking to my friends isn’t the same. There are a lot of moments where conversations become about things I wasn’t here for, and so I sit there awkwardly waiting for the moment to be over soon. On the opposite side of the equation, I feel like there isn’t a whole lot of opportunity to talk about all of my stories while being away because they weren’t there to experience it. 

Sometimes, people also feel bored when they come back home, or they’re counting down the days until they can go to some foreign country again. This hasn’t been my experience. I’m pretty okay with being home, I have not been bored yet, but that could also be because of how my mom never allowed us to say we were bored and helped us to find things to do when we felt bored. 

I do however, miss being in Costa Rica. I miss going to the beach and trying to avoid eye contact when random old guys would try to talk to you on the sidewalk. I miss all the birds and seeing monkeys steal people’s stuff.

The worst part about it all the weird feelings for me is that I haven’t even been able to fully go through reverse culture shock. Why is that you ask? Normally, the frustrations and realization that things are different than when you left happen as you go out and try to “do things as normal.” But I not much around us is normal right now.

In case someone happens to read this in a year other than 2020, let me remind you that this was the year that the world basically shut down. I was sent home from my study abroad program two months early because of the whole Covid-19 thing. I packed my stuff and left two days after we learned that we were being sent back home. And ever since I got home, my state has been in quarantine, or shelter-in-place, or whatever you want to call it. Save for going to the store and doing a few other things, I have not done any of my normal routine activities at home since JANUARY. Ya’ll, it’s the middle of May and I haven’t done anything normal in FOUR MONTHS. 

I’ve been doing my best to stay at home cause I don’t want to be part of the problem so I have only seen my friends a total of three times. The first two times were because we were all volunteering at church at the same time, and the other was a small hangout. And because of how inconsistently I am able to interact with others, EVERY SINGLE TIME I go outside and interact with people outside of my family, I feel like trash.

No exaggeration.

Normally, the readjustment period would be continuous because of daily exposure to other people, but in this case, it’s like I’m starting all over with each encounter. It’s hard readjusting to friend groups. Obviously while you’re gone, your friends change and they make new memories, and you do the same. But you aren't doing the growing together, so when you’re around each other again, you kind of have to re-learn how you fit in.

Because of all of this, I have resorted to isolating myself, even though it’s encouraged to call and video chat with friends because we can’t physically be around each other as much, I find that it doesn’t really help me to feel better, but it makes me feel more sad. And I don’t like being sad, so the logical choice is to not talk to people in order to avoid sadness. 

I don’t recommend this approach. Even though this is what I want to do, I still force myself out of my isolated euphoria to talk to people and catch up with friends because I know it’s good for me.

So far this post has been a bit of a downer, but I hope it serves to let other study abroad students know that they’re not alone in what they’re feeling. It may suck, but there are other people that understand. 

I’ll end this post with a little bit of advice and hope. Readjusting to being back home can be tough, but there are some things you can do that will help you go through the process:

  • Talking to other students from your trip

Make a groupchat with some (if not all) of the students from your trip. You can text them about memories from all of your adventures, ask them how they have been dealing with everything, or even just rant. I am super grateful for my group of people because talking about our frustrations together helps me feel less isolated and like it’s all gonna be alright.

  • Making videos or looking at pictures

This helps you to remember the good times of your trip and can also be a good way to unpack all that you experienced.

  • Talk about it when you get the chance

When people ask how your trip was, instead of just saying “good,” actually tell them how it was. Give some favorite moments, go into depth. A lot of times you may feel like no one wants to hear about any more study abroad stories, but if people are asking, it’s cause they genuinely want to know, so take the opportunity! You can even tell different memories to each person so that you can get it all out.

And, if you have someone that you can talk to about how it feels to be readjusting, I highly recommend doing that.

  • Writing about your experiences and what’s going on

If you feel like there isn’t enough time to tell people all about what happened, it’s really helpful to write it out. If you were journaling while you were away, continue to journal for the first few months that you’re back. Write about how it has been for you being back home. The best way for me to get out all of my frustrations is to write it out, it could be the same for you. You could write blog posts to help future study abroad students or to encourage people to study abroad. Let writing be your release.

  • You made it through culture shock, so you’ll make it through this too

If you experienced culture shock while you were away, you made it through (hopefully) which means that these feelings too shall pass, and you’ll make it through again. Things won’t always be like this.

Until next time,


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