Return Culture Shock
...as it appeared in an AIFS Salamanca newsletter
Don't let it catch you by surprise! Return culture shock is what you experience when you return home and have to readjust to your own country.
This is a difficult procedure for many people and is usually unanticipated. If you have trouble readjusting, the first thing to tell yourself is that this is completely normal. For some it is more difficult to readjust than it was to adapt to a foreign environment.
You can prepare yourself somewhat by considering the following factors:
- Family and friends may show less interest in your stories and experiences
than you expect. This may make you feel lonely, misunderstood, or unappreciated.
- If you are unhappy about your return home, you may try to withdraw from
or delay from reestablishing good relations with family and friends.
- You will no longer stand out in your surroundings. When you were a foreigner,
you may have attracted more interest and developed new friendships. Once
you are home, your friends will not find you so unusual.
- Being at home is not challenging and exciting in the way that life is
in a foreign country, where you have to struggle to make a success of
everything, from food habits to behavior, dress codes and language.
- There is a sense of achievement in having to stretch yourself to meet
challenges in a foreign country. A sense of achievement or personal growth
is not the same at home where you do not face so many challenges.
- You may miss foreign friends as well as the culture, the climate, the
food and the language.
- Your hometown may not seem as glamorous, interesting or exciting as the cities or towns you visited or lived in while you were abroad.
Many students experience return culture shock without realizing what is happening to them. Not being aware of what you are suffering just adds to your feeling of anxiety or depression. Family or friends may not understand why you feel unhappy, depressed or even homesick for the country and friends you left behind. In fact, they may not realize what you are going through.
The good news is that eventually most people do get used to being home. They stop longing to go back to where they were. They start focusing on the future at home. With the passage of time they develop a more balanced view of the pros and cons of both home and abroad and put their study abroad experience in a more realistic perspective. Once this happens, feelings of depression, dissatisfaction or stress tend to subside.
However, study abroad is not something you need to "get over." The experience remains with you and your outlook on life changes in basic ways. Generally, students find that they can make use of the best aspects of their study abroad experience and incorporate their newly acquired knowledge and skills into their future outlook on life.
Positive aspects of study abroad will always remain with you:
- You will have a wider outlook, appreciation and understanding of
- You will have knowledge of and sensitivity to another culture and people
from another country that may increase your sensitivity and awareness
of the differences between Americans and many other people around the
- You will have acquired another language that will increase your appreciation
of the literature, culture and people who speak that language. This may
also provide you with skills that enhance your career prospects and make
you a more attractive candidate to potential employers.
- You will be more independent, flexible and able to cope with new or
- You may have a new set of friends with whom you will stay in touch.
- You will see your own culture more objectively than you did before.
Living abroad is worth the effort and brings untold and indefinable rewards. As you struggle to readjust to your home environment, remind yourself that the rewards make it all worthwhile.