Getting used to a new culture can be tough, even when it’s your own!
A good deal of time is spent encouraging you to prepare for your study abroad experience and the adjustment to a new culture. It’s important to realize virtually everyone experiences a readjustment period (or reentry or reverse culture shock). Sometimes, coming home can be just as or even more unsettling than going abroad.
Returning to your home culture probably feels much like when you arrived to your host country. You may find that you have changed, and that home might feel “foreign,” or no longer feel familiar and natural.
Emotions you might experience when returning from study abroad may include:
- Excitement of being home with family and friends (like the “honeymoon stage” of initial culture shock)
- Difficulty expressing your feelings about your experiences
- Changed understanding of relationships
- Trouble in understanding your culture (norms, values, negative views, etc.)
- Difficulty applying knowledge or using new skills (foreign language, etc.)
- Need to learn new cultural aspects (slang, cultural references, etc.)
Your experience is your own and there is no prescribed way to readjust.
While there are common emotions you may have after returning from abroad, everyone reacts differently to coming home. Realize that these feelings are a normal and on-going part of your cross-cultural experience.
You changed when you were abroad and now you’re in an environment where you can see those changes. Cultural readjustment doesn’t mean you have to return to your pre-study abroad self; it means you’re rebuilding relationships and negotiating this new you with people who remember the old you.
Strategies for Managing Reentry
Take it from the experts – other study abroad returnees: readjustment takes time. If you’re stuck in a rut, think about these three Ps – Be Patient, Present, and Proactive.
Readjustment can take days, weeks or even longer. Patience is a study abroad virtue.
- Not everyone will understand all of your experiences. Be patient with yourself and others.
- You may have some “cultural catching up” to do, like learning new slang or catching up on current events and pop culture.
Starting your home routine may seem boring compared to life overseas, but recognize that everyday moments can be adventures, just as they were abroad!
- Share your experiences, but don’t let them consume you. You have an entire life to live and if you want, you can continue it abroad.
- Have the adventures you’ve had abroad at home! Explore the U.S. and look at American and Wisconsin culture with your new perspective.
- Stay in the here and now. Negative feeling about your home culture can be expected. Making comparisons between cultures and nations is natural; however, be careful of being too critical in comparisons or generalizations.
Take chances and make a plan. Figure out what you need to do for yourself and do it. Check out IAP’s Getting Involved After Study Abroad page for some inspiration.
- Join a club, start a language table, get to know visiting international students.
- Talk to your study abroad or academic advisor after returning to UW-Madison.
- If you need to, talk with a counseling specialist.
If you’re having a hard time adjusting, seek help.
At any time, if you think you might need help dealing with reentry effects (i.e. more intense emotions for a longer period of time), talk to someone. Counseling services are available through UHS.
Signs you may want to consider seeing a professional:
- Depression or persistent sad feelings
- Severe sleeping or eating changes (too much or too little)
- Anxiety and excessive worrying
- Feelings of isolation, helplessness or hopelessness
- Below-normal energy or physical exhaustion; lack of motivation or interests
- Thoughts of self, or other harming behavior
- Behavioral changes (lack of academic motivation, avoiding friends, heavy drug or alcohol use, etc.)
The ups and downs of reentry are to be expected and usually pass in time. Part of your readjustment is taking the time to consider what your study abroad experience means for your future.
Conveying your study abroad experience to family, friends, and future employers can be a struggle. However, on your end, you can’t talk about it if you haven’t thought about it. It’s important to take time to reflect upon the way you want to convey your study abroad experience. This helps maximize the impact so you can pull out the connections you’ve made between countries, cultures, and cross-cultural skills. Knowing what made your experience unique will set a foundation for sharing your stories.
After study abroad, apply your new skillset as you develop personally, academically and professionally. UW-Madison offers dozens of international clubs and study abroad returnee events. Remember, if you have a wanderlust itch that you just can’t scratch, you can also always go abroad again!