After returning to the U.S., you may experience some unexpected feelings and challenges. For instance, it is common for students to reflect upon their experience abroad and in the process reassess their thoughts on their own culture and country. A good step is to seek out a friend or family member who will genuinely listen to you. Here are a few ideas on how to go about processing and discussing your experience abroad:
Seek Out Fellow Travelers and Past Participants
Being able to share common concerns and coping strategies with other returnees may help reduce the frustration that can accompany re-entry. It helps to find at least one other person with whom you can discuss the sensation of reverse culture shift.
Read about Re-adjustment
Recognize that reverse culture shift is a normal part of studying abroad. This will help you avoid feelings of guilt that might occur if you are feeling depressed or unhappy about being home. Remind yourself that readjustment is a natural psychological process when confronted with change and cannot be denied.
Share Your Feelings
Educate your family and friends about this phase of adjustment. Some people have never heard of reverse culture shift. If the people around you are informed of what you are experiencing, more than likely, they will be more patient and understanding. If you have difficulty communicating your feelings, it may a good idea to share this section of the student guide with your family and friends.
Stay in Contact with Your Host Culture
Keep in contact with the friends you made in your host country through telephone calls, email, letters, or social media. It will help you feel that what you experienced was real and meaningful.
Continue to Keep a Journal
Continuing to write in your journal about your experience abroad can be a healthy source self-therapy upon return. It is important to reflect on your memories and one of the best ways to do this is to pour your feeling out on paper.
Continue to Practice a Foreign Language
Another way to connect with your host culture is to continue the immersion experience through language learning. Take a course in the foreign language that interests you. Think about contacting your university’s ESL department about becoming a conversation partner (AEI at the UO). Think about starting or joining a language circle where a group of students interested in improving foreign language skills in a specific language can meet informally a few times per week. This could connect you with others who are interested in a specific language and/or the culture of a specific region of the world.
Change and Adaptation
You may notice that after returning from your study abroad experience, you have achieved personal growth, gained new insights into your own culture, made new friendships, acquired a new understanding of the issues facing the world, and possible developed new language skills. This is all great! At the same time, you may also become critical of practices that you once took for granted in your home country. You may find that being at home again cannot match what you have just experienced abroad. Surprisingly, you may even feel awkward speaking English again if you developed other language skills. As a result, you could feel lonely and restless.
Family and Friends
Just as it was difficult adapting to a different way of life abroad, you may now find it difficult fitting in the same way you used to with your friends and family. This may be especially true if you were away for an extended period of time (a semester or a year). As you recognize that a gap exists, you may feel as if you lost part of what you once had in common with those closest to you, and you may lack the support system that you may need upon returning home. You will likely want to share many stories and newfound knowledge from your time abroad, but they may not always be responsive, simply because they have not partaken in the same experience as you have. The people that knew you before your study abroad experience may also be unprepared for the changes in your values and lifestyles. Remember that your family and friends have also had new experiences while you have been gone. Take the time to listen to their stories as well.
Friends and family can help you by doing the following:
• Showing interest
• Not making you feel defensive
• Giving you the freedom to adjust at your own pace
• Encouraging you to share photographs
• Discussing your feelings as you readjust to your home environment.
• Above all, be patient with the readjustment process.
Loss of Status
In your host country, locals may have seen you as an informal ambassador of the United States. And as a foreigner, you may have been especially intriguing to others, which probably brought you some attention. When you return home, you may become frustrated to realize that you may seem just like everyone else and that your status is generally lower than it had been abroad.
The experience of learning within a different education system and cultural environment has a liberating and confidence-building effect. The academic independence that you build abroad will give you more motivation to increase your standard level of achievements as well as help you to appreciate new perspectives on particular subjects.