Culture shock is the expected confrontation with the unfamiliar. Re-entry shock is the unexpected confrontation with the familiar. – R. Michael Paige (from Maximizing Study Abroad)
You may remember the study abroad curve from your pre-departure orientation many months ago.
Don’t forget that there are still transitions as you are returning to your life in the US. Just as you may have experienced culture shock in your host country, you could experience reverse culture shock returning home. It may take days or even weeks to readjust to your life in the US. Things that were once normal, might seem wrong or frustrating. You may see your host country as better than home.
“Upon my arrival home, I felt the immense joy of reuniting with my family, and I was in the sweet spot of stage 6. I want to say that stage 7 hit upon my arrival back at Loyola. I felt a disconnect with people who had been my friends since my first year. I felt like I was stuck in between two places. I kept thinking of my time abroad, and the people I missed all the while, my friends at school couldn't understand why my adjustment was so hard. I found a lot of comfort in the friends I made from my program. They, too, felt the same struggles, and we all confided in each other. I reached stage 8 when I began to remember the great things that made Loyola my home in the first place. My friends that I was apart from and I had to get past the learning curve of being in each other's lives again. Stage 9 fully sank in when I was able to apply what I had learned from abroad, such as independence and enjoying the little moments, especially when the pandemic hit. I became more grateful than ever for my opportunity to be abroad before the world changed.” – Angela Micelli, Athens Greece, Fall 2019
"I think I was stuck in stage seven of the re-adjustment process for a long time. Because we were only in Belgium for 42 days when I got sent home, I was really frustrated that all of my family and friends were telling me that home is the best place to be with everything that was going on. I felt really cheated out of my abroad experience and felt like no one really understood how important my experience in Belgium was to me. I think this is what a lot of people feel when they come home- a sort of resentment towards their friends and family mixed with guilt for feeling this way. Of course you are glad to see them, but it is frustrating when they are glad to have you home and expect you to be the same person you were and to be expressing only how much you missed them and not how much you miss your host university and city. In their head you were ready to come home, but you never fully are. For me, I was definitely not ready to come home, so I felt this feeling very intensely." -Emily Robinson, Leuven, Belgium, Spring 2020
"When I first returned home from studying abroad in Bangkok, Thailand I felt like I was on a vacation. Of course, home in Massachusetts and, more broadly, the United States felt 'familiar', but I had become used to life in Thailand. Things that I used to take for granted in America such as the fast-paced nature, big food portions, and shaking hands all felt slightly foreign to me. It took some time to readjust and although feelings of nostalgia and longing for returning abroad persisted for a bit, I was eventually able to turn those feelings into positive reflections and memories that will be with me forever." - Abigail Cote, Bangkok, Thailand, Fall 2019
"When I came home from Newcastle, I was disappointed and upset. I remember crying in the car as my parents drove me home from the airport. I already missed my life in England despite saying my last goodbyes that morning to my flat mates. I had finally adjusted to my apartment and routine abroad just to be summoned home because of a pandemic. My trip was abruptly ended, and I felt that I had missed out on many experiences which was part of my frustration with coming home. The first week back in the US I was shocked by how my familiar town felt strange, but despite the chaos of the world, my family had not changed. They supported me as my moods went up and down over the next couple weeks. I was thankful to be reunited with them and I began adapting to a new routine. I constantly talked about my experience and my friends that I had made, which helped with my new homesickness for a no longer foreign country. I stayed in touch with my flat mates, which also helped me readjust. I worried that I would slowly forget my experience as I became comfortable again in the US. That was not the case. I still think about England everyday even though I came home 9 months ago. While abroad, I learned to be flexible, to take advantage of opportunities, and to appreciate the little moments. These lessons have been ingrained in my new life at home and I will apply them as we transition back to Loyola and beyond." -Kristen Glass, Newcastle, England, Spring 2020
TEN TOP IMMEDIATE RETURNEE CHALLENGES
Dr. Bruce La Brack, School of International Studies, University of the Pacific
There are lots of reasons to look forward to going home, but there are also a number of psychological, social and cultural aspects which can prove difficult - often because they are unanticipated. The following list was generated by interviewing students like you who have been through the experience and survived nicely. However, they say you should take the process seriously by being realistic and thinking about it and your possible reactions. They offer the following thoughts on reentry for your consideration in the hope they will make your return both more enjoyable and more productive.
1. Boredom After
All the newness and stimulation of your time abroad, a return to family, friends, and old routines (however nice and comforting) can seem very dull. It is natural to miss the excitement and challenges which characterize study in a foreign country, but it is up to you to find ways to overcome such negative reactions - remember a bored person is also boring.
2. “No One Wants to Hear”
One thing you can count on upon your return: no one will be as interested in hearing about your adventures and triumphs as you will be in sharing those experiences. This is not a rejection of you or your achievements, but simply the fact that once they have heard the highlights, any further interest on your audiences’ part is probably unlikely. Be realistic in your expectations of how fascinating your journey is going to be for everyone else. Be brief.
3. You Can't Explain
Even when given a chance to explain all the sights you saw and feelings you had while studying abroad, it is likely to be at least a bit frustrating to relay them coherently. It is very difficult to convey this kind of experience to people who do not have similar frames of reference or travel backgrounds, no matter how sympathetic they are as listeners. You can tell people about your trip, but you may fail to make them understand exactly how or why you felt a particular way. It’s okay.
4. Reverse "Homesickness"
Just as you probably missed home for a time after arriving overseas, it is just as natural to experience some reverse homesickness for the people, places, and things that you grew accustomed to as a student overseas. To an extent it can be reduced by writing letters, telephoning, and generally keeping in contact, but feelings of loss are an integral part of international sojourns and must be anticipated and accepted as a natural result of study abroad.
5. Relationships Have Changed
It is inevitable that when you return you will notice that some relationships with friends and family will have changed. Just as you have altered some of your ideas and attitudes while abroad, the people at home are likely to have experienced some changes. These changes may be positive or negative, but expecting that no change will have occurred is unrealistic. The best preparation is flexibility, openness, minimal preconceptions, and tempered optimism.
6. People See "Wrong"
Changes Sometimes people may concentrate on small alterations in your behavior or ideas and seem threatened or upset by them. Others may ascribe “bad” traits to the influence of your time abroad. These incidents may be motivated by jealousy, fear, or feelings of superiority or inferiority. To avoid or minimize them it is necessary to monitor yourself and be aware of the reactions of those around you, especially in the first few weeks following your return. This phase normally passes quickly if you do nothing to confirm their stereotypes.
7. People Misunderstand
A few people will misinterpret your words or actions in such a way that communication is difficult. For example, what you may have come to think of as humor (particularly sarcasm, banter, etc.) and ways to show affection or establish conversation may not be seen as wit, but aggression or “showing off.” Conversely, a silence that was seen as simply polite overseas might be interpreted at home, incorrectly, as signaling agreement or opposition. New clothing styles or mannerisms may be viewed as provocative, inappropriate, or as an affectation. Continually using references to foreign places or sprinkling foreign language expressions or words into an English conversation is often considered boasting. Be aware of how you may look to others and how your behavior is likely to be interpreted.
8. Feelings of Alienation
Sometimes the reality of being back “home” is not as natural or enjoyable as the place you had constructed as your mental image. When real daily life is less enjoyable or more demanding than you remembered, it is natural to feel some alienation. Many returnees develop “critical eyes”, a tendency to see faults in the society you never noticed before. Some even become quite critical of everyone and everything for a time. This is no different than when you first left home. Mental comparisons are fine, but keep them to yourself until you regain both your cultural balance and a balanced perspective.
9. Inability to Apply New Knowledge and Skills
Many returnees are frustrated by the lack of opportunity to apply newly gained social, technical, linguistic, and practical coping skills that appear to be unnecessary or irrelevant at home. To avoid ongoing annoyance: adjust to reality as necessary, change what is possible, be creative, be patient, and above all use the crosscultural adjustment skills you acquired abroad to assist your own reentry.
10. Loss/Compartmentalization of Experience (Shoeboxing)
Being home, coupled with the pressures of job, family, and friends, often combine to make returnees worried that somehow they will “lose” the experience.
Below are some ways to continue with your intercultural engagement and exploration.
- Study Abroad Ambassadors – apply to help prepare future study abroad students and promote study abroad at Loyola.
- Global Greyhounds – work with incoming international students at Loyola.
- Seek out restaurants or activities around the city that represent your host culture.
- See Baltimore through new eyes – visit museums and cultural sites and do some research on things you don’t know about the city, just like you would when traveling to a new city abroad.
- Organize reunions with friends from abroad.
- Career Center – learn how your study abroad experience can enhance your resume and how to highlight the skills you acquired in an interview.
- Go Abroad Again