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Reverse Culture Shock

Reverse Culture Shock

Just as culture shock can differ greatly from person to person, reverse culture shock is just as personal of an experience. Upon return to the United States, you may find many things are different from how you left them and may be more critical of the United States while you now view your host country in a more favorable light. From language adjustments to depression to a simple trip to the supermarket, reverse culture shock can hit you in more ways than you would expect.



Defining Reverse Culture Shock

So what is reverse culture shock? First, let's examine the process of re-entry. There are usually two elements that characterize it:

  1. An idealized view of home
  2. The expectation of total familiarity (that nothing at home has changed while you have been away)

Often, students expect to be able to pick up exactly where they left off. A problem arises when reality doesn't meet these expectations. Home may fall short of what you had envisioned, and things may have changed: your friends and family have their own lives, and things have happened since you've been gone, making home seem foreign.

Feelings You May Experience

The inconsistency between expectations and reality, plus the lack of interest on the part of family and friends (nobody seems to really care about all your "when I was abroad" stories) may result in these challenges:

  1. Frustration- Your home country just doesn’t seem as comfortable anymore, and your loved ones may be slow to respond to your new tastes.
  2. Boredom- Things at home have seemed to have lost its pizzazz.
  3. Relationships have changed- The changes between you and your loved ones have caused a slight division in your relationships.
  4. Reverse Homesickness- You long to study in your host country again.
  5. Feelings of alienation- You feel like family and friends are asking you to revert to your “old” self.
  6. Mutual misunderstandings- Your changes and your loved ones’ reactions to them can be misinterpreted.

(More challenges in the University of Buffalo’s re-entry handbook)

Of course, the difficulty of readjustment will vary for different individuals, but, in general, the better integrated you have become to your host country’s culture and lifestyle, the harder it is to readjust during re-entry. This is where reverse culture shock (sometimes called re-entry shock) comes in to play.

Stages of Reverse Culture Shock

Reverse culture shock is usually described in four stages:

  1. Disengagement
  2. Initial euphoria
  3. Irritability and hostility
  4. Readjustment and adaptation

Stage 1 begins before you leave your host country when you start thinking about re-entry and making your preparations for your return home. With the hustle and bustle of finals, good-bye parties, and packing, you begin to realize that it's time to say good-bye to your friends abroad and to the place you've come to call home. This can intensify your feelings of sadness and frustration, making you reluctant to leave. Or, you may make your last few days fly by so fast that you don't have time to reflect on your emotions and experiences.

Stage 2 usually begins shortly before departure and is characterized by feelings of excitement and anticipation–even euphoria–about returning home. This is very similar to the initial feelings of fascination and excitement you may have had when you first entered your host country. The length of this stage varies and often ends with the realization that most people are not as interested in your experiences abroad as you had hoped. Although you and your loved ones are excited about your return, you will find that they politely listen to your stories for a while, but soon, they are ready to move on to the next topic of conversation.

This is often one of the transitions to Stage 3. You may experience feelings of frustration, anger, alienation, loneliness, disorientation, and helplessness and not understand exactly why, possibly causing you to become irritated or critical of others and of U.S. culture. Other common reactions are depression, feeling like a stranger at home, and the longing to go back abroad. You could also feel like your independence has diminished.

Then, most people transition to Stage 4, which is a gradual readjustment to life at home. Things will start to feel normal again, and you will probably fall back into some old routines; however, things won't be exactly the same as how you left them. Most likely, you have developed new attitudes, beliefs, habits, as well as personal and professional goals, and you will see things differently now. The important thing is to try to incorporate the positive aspects of your international experience while abroad with the positive aspects of your life at home in the United States.