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How to Deal with Reverse Culture Shock After Study Abroad

17th June 2016 Posted by: Cristina Radulescu

STUDENT opportunities to work or study abroad have become increasingly more accessible in recent years. Every university has carefully established a network of fellow learning institutions across the globe aimed at providing students with the chance to engage in a different culture both academically and socially. Studying abroad doesn’t just contribute to personal growth, but has positively affected the job market as well; employers notice the open-mindedness and ambition of graduates who have spent time abroad during their studies.

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But, alas, all good things must come to an end. Most are under the impression that when students return home after studying abroad, they are able to transition effortlessly to their everyday lives. Being surrounded by loved ones, familiar places and the security of a comfort-zone should be simple. However, in reality, it may not be. Many students when returning from abroad experience reverse culture shock, a psychological phenomenon characterised by confusion, disorientation and unfitness due to a change in perspective and appreciation while living in a foreign country.

As someone who’s been studying abroad for quite some time, this is definitely a feeling a fellow student ex-pat and I can relate to. Here are some tips and insights on how to deal with issues that arise as a result of reverse culture shock.

Language

English may be universally spoken (especially in an academic environment), but living abroad (in a non-English speaking country), inevitably puts you in contact with the colloquial language of that country. Whether the university/ employer provides you with a beginner course in the local tongue, or you’re endowed with a keen linguistic ear, by the end of your time abroad, you will have the tendency to speak in your newly learned language.

This inclination may persist well after you’ve returned home. The inevitable differences might become a hindrance when expressing yourself.

However, in order not to forget the new language you should find ways to constantly brush up. It doesn’t even have to be anything too formal; maybe pop in a movie once a week or listen to a band from that country while you’re on the go. This technique will also remind you that no matter how far away you are, your new favourite country will always be part of you.

Independence

Living abroad as a student entails a great deal of independence. The world is your oyster and you have the chance to explore new places and do new things on a regular basis. Your horizons are broadened and you begin to perceive things through a new cultural lens. There are also practical benefits of becoming more independent: you’re more organised, self-sufficient and manage your finances a lot better.

However, when you return home, it’s challenging to adapt your newly-found independence to your old cultural norms. Ex-pat students have reported a feeling of frustration and rootlessness caused by culture clash.

My recommendation is to take things one day at a time and bridge the gap between your own country’s social norms and your independence. Don’t give in to the temptation of facing things head on. Not because you wouldn’t be capable, but because it’s smarter to harness your independence and put it to good use. Display it gradually and don’t be disheartened when people won’t take you seriously at first.

Friends & Family

We all miss our friends and families when we’re abroad. That’s a fact! I can’t even count the times I’ve wished I could reach out through the screen of my laptop and give them a hug just so they knew how much I actually miss them!

Nevertheless, after the initial excitement of seeing everyone you care about when you return home, the intense emotions start to wear off. At one point, nobody wants to hear about the feel of the city you lived in, your quirky foreign friends or how much you miss being away. You end up being dismissed as pretentious or bragging and the instinct is to internalize everything in the hope that it disappears.

This is where almost all students make a mistake. Keeping it all inside leads to a great deal of anxiety and guilt, which will ultimately turn you into the unbearable person your friends made you out to be. Instead, remember why you missed the people back home in the first place, and tap into that emotional reserve whenever you feel that they’re about to roll their eyes.

Local People & Culture

Personally, the most difficult thing I deal with whenever I go home is re-adapting to the local culture and people. This is something particularly challenging for those who spend their time abroad in a society which is completely different from their own. Maybe it’s more organised, the food is spicier or the people are a lot more sociable. Whatever the difference involves, you’ll need to take them in your stride.

The key in this situation is to keep your cool. Don’t be fazed by mundane things that were much different abroad and if you felt that they would be an improvement in your home environment, try to phase them in tactfully.

All in all, spending time abroad is an enlightening experience and regardless of how you feel about it right after it’s over, in the long run it does make you a better, braver person. Learn how to deal with reverse culture shock now, and you can ensure the transition back home afterwards goes smoothly.

To help with the effects of reverse culture shock, be sure to read our 17 Things to Look Forward to AFTER Studying Abroad


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