All travels eventually come to an end. You are probably catching your flight home after the end of your J-1 program feeling bittersweet. Like most independent travelers, you may be thinking about the homemade meal you have been craving, or about finally seeing your beloved pet again. But once you have survived your long 10-hour flight, slept off the jet lag, and escaped all of the hugs and kisses from your happy relatives, a different set of emotions may begin to set in.
Those returning from exchange programs are often surprised by how they feel when they return home. Many expect to feel a certain way when they step back into their house – feelings like comfort, relief, or pride. After all, it’s something they have been anticipating for weeks. Instead, they find themselves having feelings they didn’t expect: boredom, anxiety, or even loneliness. In fact, these emotions were the very feelings they experienced at the beginning of their exchange, feelings commonly referred to as culture shock. It may be no surprise that the similar feelings associated with returning home are often called “reverse culture shock” (or re-entry shock).
Robin Pascoe, an American author, describes reverse culture shock as feeling “like you are wearing contact lenses in the wrong eyes. Everything looks almost right.”
Things have changed. You have gone through a deep, personal transformation that you might not even be fully aware of yet. Some parts of your home life may also have changed while you were away. Social circles may have rearranged; someone you know may have moved away. Time did not stand still. This makes returning home especially challenging. Furthermore, after the first day or two, you may find that people are less and less interested in hearing your stories about your amazing time abroad. After months of constant excitement and new experiences, life at home may seem dull or even disappointing by comparison.
Like culture shock, reverse culture shock will be difficult for you at first. After adapting fully to a new culture, you must now re-adapt to your home culture. The most important thing for you, your family members, and your friends to understand is that the complicated emotions associated with reverse culture shock are completely normal, and they will take time to overcome.
CICD has some helpful advice for managing reverse culture shock:
- Start something new: While abroad, you realized just how independent and resilient you really are. Now is the perfect time to join a club or a new sports team to keep up your momentum. A busy schedule will also help fight off any feelings of boredom or anxiety.
- Keep in touch…and not just on Facebook! Write a letter or send a package to your host company. Networking is key to making a great international experience last a lifetime. Send emails to former colleagues during the holiday season. Actively keeping in touch with those you met abroad will prove that you can stay connected even from across the world. Stay active on the CICD Facebook group to get connected with the next generation of J-1 participants.
- Stay engaged with American culture: Just because you’ve returned home does not mean you have to forget everything you learned about American life. Find creative ways to keep your interest in the U.S. culture alive: try cooking one of your favorite American meals or volunteer as an English tutor so you can use your language skills.
- Plan for the future: You may not know it yet, but you have learned so much while abroad. Now is the perfect time to update your resume to showcase your new international experience. Write down all of the tasks and projects you assisted with while they are still fresh in your mind! Think about the moments where you were the most adaptable or practiced cultural understanding — these are great moments to bring up in future job interviews.
- Tell your story: Most importantly, find a way to share your experiences with others. Exchange programs are founded on the basis of exchanging ideas and information. A great way to share is to write a blog or record a video-blog about your experience! Send CICD some of your favorite photos from abroad or share a happy exchange memory with us.
Reverse Culture Shock Resources:
Carruthers, F. (July, 2017). My reverse culture shock: Returning from a year abroad is tough. The Guardian.
Cordova, T. (August, 2016). Tips for dealing with reverse culture shock when you return home. Diversity Abroad. Retrieved from:
Expatica. (2018). Reverse culture shock: What, when and how to cope.
Students Abroad. (2012). Study abroad student handbook – Cuba.
US Department of State. (2018). Reverse culture shock.
Wong, A. (April, 2013). 10 ways to overcome reverse culture shock. The Verge Magazine.
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