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Returning Home

Welcome home! You are now officially a Returnee! Coming home can be just as much of a shock as living in another country. We can help with that! Join with your fellow Returnees at the Returnees' Workshop. This event is held every semester and is a food and fun filled event aimed at helping you to adjust to your return home and provide you with the tools to leverage your study abroad experience into a meaningful step towards your career or future studies.

Reverse Culture Shock

The Beginning of Something New!Cynthia by the lake

Many assume that once they or their loved ones return from studying abroad, the experience is over. Not true! Your return is the beginning of an inevitable transition: merging your new experience into your old life. You have spent several months comparing the culture of your host country to your own culture. It is probably safe to assume that you were introduced to new things, new ways of interpreting things and new ways of doing things. If you do not prepare for this, you may find you feel disconnected, isolated and rootless. This is what we call "reverse culture shock" or "re-entry shock".

What is Reverse Culture Shock?

When you return to the US, you may experience some degree of “reverse culture shock” or “re-entry shock”. Although it may not be as significant as the initial culture shock you experience upon going overseas, it can be more upsetting as it is often unexpected.

Top Ten Immediate Reentry Challenges

  • Boredom
  • No one wants to hear
  • You can’t explain
  • Reverse homesickness
  • Relationships have changed
  • People see “wrong” changes
  • People misunderstand
  • Feelings of alienation
  • Inability to apply new knowledge and skills
  • Loss/compartmentalization of experience

Stages of Culture Shock

Reverse culture shock has a number of stages, which you can imagine as a U shape curve. At first, you may be excited to return home - seeing friends and family members, wearing the rest of your wardrobe, and eating at your favorite restaurants. However, this initial euphoria may not last long and you might find yourself feeling out of place in your own culture. Here is when you may experience reverse culture shock. This is the bottom of the curve, and is often the roughest part. Although it may take time, you will begin a gradual adjustment back towards feeling comfortable with where and who you are.

Stage 1: Disengagement and Departure
While you are still overseas, you begin to start thinking about moving back home and moving away from your experience and friends abroad.

Stage 2: Euphoria/the Honeymoon
You may be very excited to be back home and others may be equally delighted to have you back. You have the opportunity to do, eat, see, smell and visit with all of those things that you missed while you were away from home. After people express their pleasure at seeing you again, and listen politely to your stories for a few minutes, you may suddenly and/or painfully realize that they are not particularly interested in what happened to you and would much rather prefer to talk about their own affairs.

 Stage 3: Alienation
In this stage, you experience dampened euphoria with feelings of alienation, frustration and anger. You may even feel like an outsider - a foreigner in your own country. Suddenly you feel irritated with others and impatient with your own inability to do things as well or as quickly as you hoped. Resentment, loneliness, disorientation and even a sense of helplessness may pervade.

Stage 4: Gradual Readjustment
The fourth stage of reentry includes a gradual readjustment to life at home. It is important to remember that the shock of returning home will eventually dissipate.

Why is coming home so much harder than I thought?

You probably spent months planning for your time abroad, which helped you mentally prepare to live in a new environment. While abroad, you may have realized how difficult it would be to leave your program, however, it is unlikely that you spent any significant time prepping yourself for the challenges of being home again. After all, shouldn’t this be the easy part?
In reality, you have changed a great deal. You are likely to find that your family and friends have not changed that much since you left. Although they are happy to have you back, and inquire politely about your experiences, they may seem uninterested in listening to the details about your time abroad. Many students are surprised to return home to this lack of interest, understanding and support. You may also find that your interests have expanded while abroad, often differing from those of your friends.

What Next? How do I feel normal again?

Although it takes time, you can use the same tools you learned while abroad to help you cope with this new adjustment. Acknowledge that what you are feeling is real. Only 1% of US students study abroad. You have lived outside your culture and have developed more than one perspective on the world. Many people won’t understand this change in your world view.  Here are a number of suggestions to help you deal with this major transformation in your life:
  •  Talk with people who understand
Keep in touch with people from your program, or your host families abroad. They understand the experiences you went through, and are most likely to have their own trouble adapting back home! Also, come to the Center for International Programs to show us your photos from abroad. We want to hear about your experiences!
  • Share your experience with others
Volunteer to talk to prospective study abroad students (they will be your best audience!)  Talk to professors in your academic department to find other ways to incorporate your newfound knowledge into your academic experience.
  • Maintain a healthy diet, including exercise
Take care of yourself physically as well as mentally. Exercise and a healthy diet can help keep your stress levels low.
  •  Maintain your sense of humor!
Remember that being flexible and expecting the unexpected helped you get through the difficult times abroad. The same attitude can help you back home. Reverse culture shock is a transition, and an important learning experience. Use this time to rebuild relationships, interests, and your new worldly self!
  •  Stay international
Read magazines, newspapers and web-sites from abroad.  Get involved with international organizations and/or student clubs. Go backpacking. You can travel cheaply here like you did abroad, and meet international travelers in youth hostels in the United States and Canada.
  • Try new things
If you return to the same place a different person, redefine the place. Take up a new hobby, residence, sport, mode of transport.

Check out these other resources:

Continuing your studies abroad - check out international universities that are eligible to receive Title IV funds.