When you first prepare to go abroad, you probably have a few ways in mind to deal with potential culture shock. If you’re traveling abroad as a student, chances are likely that you’ll attend a seminar or listen to a talk at orientation about culture shock and all the ways to overcome it. However, a lesser-known issue exists and is important to consider before going abroad.
While culture shock occurs when you newly arrive abroad, reverse culture shock symptoms include the feeling of unfamiliarity that occurs when you come back to your own culture after having lived elsewhere. This affects many people during both their traveling time abroad and their first months back at home; if you’re planning to travel abroad, be privy to tips on dealing with reverse culture shock to utilize upon your return home as you transition back into routine. Here are a few solid reverse culture shock tips to remember when battling your return home:
Prepare For It
Reverse culture shock comes as a complete surprise for many study abroad students because they simply aren’t expecting the phenomenon. They’ve been adequately prepared for culture shock upon entering their host culture, but they never imagine that they’ll have the same experience when they arrive back home.
One thing to remember is that the longer you’re immersed in a different culture, the stronger the possibility is for experiencing reverse culture shock symptoms at home. Americans who study abroad in England might experience a few strange things—like not remembering which way to look when crossing the street—but their reverse culture shock will be quite different from students who spent time in, say, Saudi Arabia, where the culture and language are completely different.
Reverse culture shock depression can even impact how you socialize. For instance, you wouldn’t openly communicate with your classmates on Facebook and Twitter in China (it’s blocked)—you would use RenRen and Sina Weibo. Students who study abroad for a longer amount of time, like an entire year as opposed to a few weeks during the summer, are also likely to experience reverse culture shock symptoms for a longer period of time. Nonetheless, if you’re in even a slightly less familiar culture for a shorter amount of time, expect to experience at least a little reverse culture shock upon your return home.
Give Yourself Time
The most important thing that you can do when dealing with reverse culture shock stages is to simply give yourself time to readjust when you get home. If you’ve been away for months, it will be tempting to run around and try to see all your family and friends within a few days of getting home. Although well-intentioned, this can be a big mistake, as you’ll probably find yourself quickly fatigued and even irritable because your mind and body are not getting the rest/recovery time they need.
Give yourself at least a few days to get re-acclimated and to overcome any jet lag before you attend a huge welcome-home party. Set boundaries ahead of time for your friends and family members, who may assume that you want to see everyone and do everything you can immediately after arriving home. Shower them with love and appreciation, but let them know what you need!
Understand That Things Have Changed
One of the main problems during the reverse culture shock stages is that when going abroad for a period of time, travelers create an idealized version of home where everything remains exactly how he or she left it. The truth of the matter is that time keeps moving wherever you are at in the world. Life continues at home while your life continues abroad, so keeping this in mind will help reduce any disappointment in feeling like you’re missing out. Staying in touch with friends and family members while you’re abroad will help mitigate the FOMO once you return. Knowing that your best friend broke up with her boyfriend or that your little brother got into college and is heading out of state next year will help keep you sane and in the loop.
Embrace Your Emotions
Often times, the most confusing part of dealing with reverse culture shock is the potpourri of emotions that go with it. Like most long-distance travelers, you’re probably elated to be going home, especially if you left many friends and loved ones behind for a substantial period of time. On the other hand (and side of the world), you’re probably also sad to be leaving the new “family” and friends you’ve gained in your host country.
You’ll feel completely exhausted when you get home, and you’ll probably also feel a vague uneasiness as you settle back into your old way of life as you come to terms with how your time abroad has personally changed you. Along with all of this, you will feel yourself clashing with the newly noticeable cultural differences between your home and your host country, all of which were non-existent before you traveled abroad.
The key here is to just accept your feelings for what they are. Avoid reverse culture shock depression by not feeling guilty for missing your host country and reminiscing on parts of your experience abroad, especially the connections and friends you made along the way. Be honest about your feelings with your loved ones and explain your situation to them. Reverse culture shock is not an experience that lasts forever, and it’s pretty educational.
It makes you focus on the beautiful differences of people and their ways of life and how those differences in culture shape the incredible world with which we share our lives.
Traveling abroad is one of the most enriching experiences a person can have, so make the most of it by being prepared for all possibilities. In the long run, dealing with reverse culture shock (and regular culture shock) are two minor pieces of the puzzle that come with the territory, so don’t let them define the experiences, the education, and the emotions you gain from traveling abroad. Know what to expect, be aware of yourself, and let the adventure do the rest.