Re-Entry & Reverse Culture Shock

Re-Entry & Reverse Culture Shock

While many students anticipate feeling culture shock upon arriving to their host country, few anticipate feeling culture shock when returning home.  Re-entry into the United States provides students with new challenges, and can sometimes be more intense than the initial culture shock felt in their study abroad country.  Reverse culture shock is the unexpected difficulty in readjusting to life back home.  Usually, "reverse culture shock" is the result of the student, who has grown more than ever before, returning to a place that remains largely unchanged.  

How Does Study Abroad Change Students?

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Personal Growth: For many students that study abroad, their time in their host country was the first time that they were truly independent.  It also may have been the first time that they thought about their identity or home country in the context of the world.  Students find that their whole worldview has changed through the independence, cultural knowledge, and connections they gained.  In many ways, returned study abroad students have new ideas and concepts while very little has changed at home in the time that they were abroad.  Part of the struggle of re-entry is coming to terms with their new selves in their old home.
New Skills & Interests: So much of the learning for study abroad students comes outside of the classroom, even when students don't know how they are learning.  Take a simple scenario, like a delayed train: as students navigate the hassles of a delayed train, they may utilize language, flexibility, problem solving, and creative thinking skills.  Study abroad helps students grow in so many ways: from becoming more mature and independent to having greater cultural and emotional intelligence.  As students return home with new skills and interests, they might feel more confused about the future than ever before.  OIE is here to help students find ways to turn those skills and interests into a career path.
Relationships: Returned study abroad students certainly come home thankful to see family and friends, but they may struggle with relationships initially.  The student has seen a new part of the world, has lived with new people, and has expanded their interests and knowledge: in many ways, their friends at home have remained the same.  While their friends and family may have been eager to hear about their study abroad experience initially, the interest wears off.  Students may even miss their new friends or host family in their study abroad country.  

Common Re-Entry/Reverse Culture Shock Experiences

As you re-adjust to life back home, it is likely that you will feel:

  • That you cannot fully explain your experience abroad to your friends and family
  • That your friends and family are not interested in hearing about your experience
  • Boredom or feeling "out of place" at home
  • Reverse homesickness for the place or places you have been
  • That your experience abroad is disconnected from the rest of your life
  • Judging or being critical of your home community or country in a way that you never have been before

Coping with Reverse Culture Shock

If you do find yourself having difficulty with reverse culture shock:

  • Reflect: Give yourself time to think about your time abroad and your return home.  What were some ways that you changed as a result of your experience abroad?  How did your experience surprise you?  What were some of your favorite moments from your time abroad?  Thinking through your experience can help you articulate it to friends and family and can also help you to incorporate what you learned into your life post-return.
  • Be patient: Many of your friends and family will ask about your experience but may not understand the depth of it.  Don't get frusterated if they don't understand everything you tell them.  Listen to them as they catch you up on life back home.  Continue to share memorable experiences together.
  • Be positive and negative: It is likely that when you return home, you will see many shortcomings in US cultures, norms, and values.  You may find aspects of your host country much better than what you see at home.  Allow yourself to see the positives (and negatives) about both countries.  When you identify the positives of both countries, find ways to incorporate those positivess into your own life.  What are ways that these two cultures could learn from each other?  How would you teach them?
  • Stay engaged: Fredonia offers many ways for returned study abroad students to stay involved with international opportunities on campus.  Take advantage of various classes, clubs, organizations, events, and programs that are of interest to you.  Within your local community, look for organizations that focus on international issues and get involved.  
  • Explore your home: Many students return from a semester abroad and feel that the adventure is gone.  Explore your home community!  There are plenty of new things to see and do at home, and it will make it feel as if you are studying abroad within your own country.
  • Get involved with OIE: Returned study abroad students have the opportunity to get involved with the Office of International Educaiton through the Study Abroad Ambassador program, presentations, and professional development opportunities.  Don't let your study abroad experience slip away!  Bring study abroad to the forefront of Fredonia's campus.

Additional Resources for Re-Entry & Reverse Culture Shock

Erin Willis, Assistant Director of Study Abroad & Exchange Programs

Study Abroad & Exchange Programs

7 LoGrasso
State University of New York at Fredonia
Fredonia, NY 14063
716-673-3451