Welcome to the realm of reverse culture shock that appears on your front door shortly after you have finished studying abroad. You never imagined that your home country would clench its cultural fist and hit you right in the face with no sign of mercy. Only a few international students have heard about reverse culture shock and prepared accordingly for the cultural, mental and emotional difficulties upon their re-entry.
In order to fully enjoy the benefits of studying abroad you need not only to be aware of culture shock and adjustment to your host country, but also you have to get ready for the reverse culture shock and readjustment period after you got home from your study abroad program.
The culture shock you experience in a foreign country resembles to the re-entry shock in your home country. In practice the adaptation process is stressful in both cases, however latter seems worse for two reasons. For one, reverse culture shock hits you totally unexpected, as you thought studying abroad was the hardest part. Second, you feel super frustrated by the very fact that you have to readjust to your own culture and the idea that you 'lost' your cultural identity is frightening.
You studied abroad for a semester, an academic year or you earned a graduate degree abroad. Living and studying abroad for the first time you loved it, but at the same time you experienced mild to severe culture shock, bit by bit you successfully adjusted to the cultural differences in a foreign country. More or less you conformed your behavior and restringed your brainchords to understand locals and international students. Things were going fine for you, you were done with the hard part, you thought. But your personality has changed.
Swift and sweet shift home
Upon returning home from your study abroad program you saw your country from a different perspective and you had some inexplicable feelings inside. Your home country has changed. In the beginning it did not matter, because you were excited to be home again. Your first week was so nostalgic in your home country that it seemed like your readjustment was going to be a ride and all will be like before.
Culture shock abroad
Several weeks have passed. Life at home suddenly became unusual, you felt discomfort, you knew that something was off. You reconnected with your family and reached out to some of your old friends and you realized that most of them are the same. They are right where you left them. But their attitude towards you turned bitter, they look at you differently. Surely, you did not expect, whatmore, did not deserve such treatment just because you were studying abroad. You changed during your studies overseas, it is not a big surprise. You were not ready to deal with the unexpected behaviour of people who were once closest to you, but you have to readjust.
You know the places and faces but your very own culture feels familiar and unreal, unique and conventional, boring and exciting – it is what it was, but you see your country through different lenses. This mix of feelings came as a surprise and you struggle with the devastating thought that this state of mind might be permanent.
You can't force cultural readjustment, you have to give it some time if needed, or else you just become even more stressed that it's not 'happening'. Start with acknowledging the fact that you need time to adjust to your home culture. Being prepared for change is half victory.
John and Jeanne Gullahorn explained the reverse culture shock as the inverse of culture shock, describing the process in an eight steps W-curve.
The intensity of culture shock during the readjustment period depends on the individual, however below you can see the most common factors that play a key role in coping with the reentry shock. In this section we list the most usual situations when international students may experience lighter culture shock upon returning home.