Reverse culture shock is a very real thing when returning from study abroad or being abroad for an extended period of time.
After becoming accustomed to a way-of-life other than your own, it becomes familiar in an exciting and exotic way. You become a part of a culture in a way that you can’t experience as a tourist. You wave hello to the locals, have a favorite coffee shop, and a wonderful group of friends.
But then you leave, and there’s this sudden feeling of loss. The person you are has changed and been shaped by your time abroad. Then you head home, and reverse culture shock kicks in.
When you go home, it often feels like taking two steps back; you’ve achieved so much and changed so much as a person, yet physically you’re right back where you were. You feel like you’ve lost your experience because you’re back to what you were used to before you changed. Your friends are the same, your schedule goes back to what it was, and your family is doing what they always did. How was this experience useful and influential in your life when it’s all the same and it feels nothing has changed?
Even with this feeling of loss, it’s important to remind yourself that the culture and places that you’ve experienced become a part of you. The experience will never leave your heart, and it will always affect how you make decisions in the years to come. It’s a part of you just as much as your goals, your ambition, and your laughter. The person you have been shaped into hasn’t changed, and everything you learned is still right there with you. Don’t let this reverse culture shock win. You are stronger than it.
The key to “coming back to real life” is to embrace it.
Embrace the person this experience has helped you become. Don’t hold onto it as if it’s a fleeting moment, let it be and let the memories come over you with gratitude instead of sadness. As a very wise man said, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened!”
You cannot hold onto the past, but you can hold on to what it taught you. The experience is not over, it will continue day-in and day-out as you go through life.
The way you view people has probably changed, and that’s okay. The way you think and appreciate things has probably changed, and that’s even better! You now have the chance to be a truer version of yourself, which will provide a clearer path for you to follow. I know it sure did that for me!
When I left home to study abroad in Italy four years ago, I was enrolled at a university in Maryland as a nursing major.
A few months into my time abroad, I started seeing things a bit clearer and changed my major to Healthcare Management. I didn’t feel passionate about this, but I knew it would excuse me from the sciences I had done so poorly in despite my every effort.
After I had returned home to Maryland and the months went on, I continued to despise all my classes. I didn’t find them interesting and I didn’t enjoy them in the slightest. Within one month of being back at my university, I realized that if I so strongly disliked these classes that were teaching me the skills needed for my future career, chances are that field isn’t for me. So I thought about what I liked, and I thought back to my time abroad.
I quickly realized one thing that made my time abroad so special was the linguistic aspect of it. I loved learning the local tongue and what made it unique. I loved understanding how we as humans communicate and connect, even when verbal communication isn’t an option. After this realization, my passion for languages and culture came to be and I followed that path.
It seems that with a little bit of time and perspective, our paths become clear. Focus on your path, realize what inspires you. Find the thing that makes you jump out of bed in the morning and keep it close to your heart. Find little ways to remember your time abroad and revisit that time in your life every now and again.
Try keeping a memory box.
Inside this box, you can keep all the little things you kept from your time abroad; plane tickets, receipts, pictures, notes, etc. Look at it from time to time and reminisce, but don’t forget to look forward. Customize it so it brings a smile to your face. Let it be a reminder of the piece of you that you now love so dearly. Look forward to the life you have ahead of you.
It’s like breaking up with your first love; the experiences shaped and changed you but it’s time to move on. Always take the lessons you learned and continue to learn with you as you conquer your future and goals, but remember that dwelling on it only makes it harder. Follow your path with the knowledge that, as cliché as this may sounds, you can do anything you set your mind to. You wanna take a year off and volunteer at an animal refuge? Do it! You wanna work your way up to a CEO position? Do it! You might not know where the path will bring you, but you can enjoy the journey along the way.
If after time your mind still returns to where you were abroad and life just doesn’t compare now, make what makes you happy happen! As for myself, I fell in love with not only the boy, but also the town where I studied abroad. I just couldn’t get over it and I couldn’t imagine my life anywhere else. So I worked extremely hard for a year and I made it happen. I worked my little booty off to save some money, I did all the (ridiculously never-ending) paperwork, and I made the move. I will be very transparent in saying that it was easier for me than most because I had a family to stay with; however, you can do whatever you put your mind to! Follow what brings you joy and do what you need to do to make your dream a reality, wherever that may be!