Reverse culture shock: the dark side of studying abroad

Anna Nixon

Editor’s Note: The views expressed in the following column are those of the writer only and do not necessarily represent the views of the Collegian or its editorial board.

Studying abroad is a fantastic way to learn more about yourself and the world around you while earning college credit. 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,”Adrienne Thune, an education abroad peer adviser at Colorado State University, said. “There’s no way to reflect if you’re having a hard time.”

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 that 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,” Heather Hellenga said, 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,” AJ Brinser, who participated in Semester at Sea during the fall 2016 semester, said.

Although reverse culture shock is something to look out for it should in no way discourage a student from participating in education abroad. Rather, it goes to show just how incredible going abroad really is. 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.

If you are struggling keep in touch with the friends you made while you were abroad and look into ways you can represent your education abroad program on your home campus. Lots of programs need ambassadors and you’re more than qualified for the job. If you’ve caught the travel bug don’t be afraid to research where you want to go next, just don’t let the future get in the way of the present. Last but not least, know that no matter where you go there are people like you. It may just take a little searching to find them.