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Reverse Culture Shock

by AIFS Abroad

Last Updated on March 10, 2020 by AIFS Abroad

Sure, you were prepared for the shock of living in a foreign country. But you may not have expected how weird you would feel after you came back, and the excitement of being home wore off. Alumni Ambassador Mollie was caught off guard by it after studying abroad in Chile, but she’s here to tell you it will get better. Read on for her experience, tips and advice for how to cope with reverse culture shock after coming home from the best semester of your life.

It will get better.

When we go abroad, everyone warns us about culture shock and homesickness. We know we’ll feel out of place, maybe a little depressed, but then we come through it and realize how neat the place we’ve arrived to really is.

Reverse culture shock, however, is mentioned much less often even though it can have just as big of an effect. According to a guide from Marquette University, reverse culture shock can be defined simply as “re-entry into your home country, and the emotional/psychological stages of re-adjustment that come with that.” But if you got over foreign culture shock, this should be a breeze right?

I think one of the biggest differences between these two is the preparation. I went abroad to Chile knowing that it would be different (although I wasn’t fully prepared for just how different). I came back with no idea of what to expect.

The things that were different weren’t supposed to be different. While I was gone, my older sister graduated from school, my nephew turned one, and they built a Jimmy John’s down the street from me. All pretty momentous occasions I was bummed to miss out on.

The weirdest thing for me, however, was everything that was the same. Catching up with friends, I learned that their spring semester was the same as their fall semester, and “what’s new?” was answered with “you know not much…”

When I left the U.S., I had this terrible feeling that I was going to be missing out. I was afraid that every weekend I was going to develop a new case of FOMO and wish I had stayed home instead. But the things I missed out on were heavily outweighed by the things I gained abroad.

Things like a new appreciation for food. Things like a newly found flexibility and taste for adventure. Things like increased independence due to finally being on my own. Things like lifelong relationships and friends across the globe. Things like memories that I will not soon forget.

Those are the things that made re-adjustment so hard for me: knowing that I was done with my “experience of a lifetime” and could never go back. But it did get better.

It got better when I realized just how lucky I was to have had this opportunity. Yes, it was over, and no one can really relive the past (as hard as I tried), but it was also amazing. I found out more about myself in four months than I ever thought possible, and learned so much about the world around me. As much as I was upset about being back in the “boring” US of A, which I think is how everyone initially describes it after traveling the world, eventually I got over it. Because in reality, the U.S. is not boring. There is so much to explore here. It may not be as glamorous as Europe or South America or Africa (I know you’re going to miss all those extra insta likes from you being in such an exotic place), but it can be just as educational, and just as exciting.

And just because you can’t relive your first experience, it does not necessarily have to mean that your travels abroad are over. Go again! Go with AIFS for a January Term (which is what I’m doing this year, to beautiful Salamanca). Go on vacation to one of our neighboring countries. Explore a country you missed on your first trip. Never stop traveling, and never stop exploring, no matter where you end up. Most of all though, never get discouraged. What you’re feeling as a fresh returnee is normal, and from experience, I can tell you that the sooner you move on, the sooner you can start planning your next adventure.


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