Reverse culture shock: The downside of studying abroad

Most universities offer a wide variety of programs that can take you almost anywhere around the globe. The months leading up to your departure are filled with anticipation, planning and overpacking. When it comes time to leave, you have gotten your shots, studied the language and purchased currency. But what you most likely have not prepared for is your return home.

“I think there’s not a lot of support for students coming home and dealing with reverse culture shock,” said Adrienne Thune, an education abroad peer adviser at Colorado State University. “There’s no way to reflect if you’re having a hard time.”

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For many students returning from a semester abroad, re-adapting to the realities of their home countries can be a challenge. The reverse culture shock they may find themselves feeling can be in many ways more difficult to navigate than the initial culture shock they were met with while abroad. They are no longer surrounded by the people who made adapting to a foreign country so rewarding and are not sure where to turn for guidance. It is common for students in this position to question their values, priorities and future life goals.

“The only thing I regret about doing Semester at Sea is that there’s not a day that passes that I don’t wish I was back on the ship traveling,” said Heather Hellenga, reflecting on her semester abroad this past fall.

For students returning home alone, it can be difficult to explain their time abroad to family and friends who may not appear to understand, or care, in the way the student had hoped.

“I was excited to return home, but after answering the same questions over and over again you get burnt out,” said AJ Brinser who participated in Semester at Sea during the fall 2016 semester.

To help with the transition most campuses provide resources for students upon their return home, CSU being no exception.

“There are ways to get involved like mentoring or joining clubs on campus that can help post study-abroad,” Thune said.

For some newly returned students, coming back home becomes in many ways more difficult to navigate than the initial culture shock they were met with while abroad.