Much has been written about the woes of "reverse culture shock," something that has become a more well-known phenomenon as of late -- it's like the culture shock of living in a new country, but less cool and fun because you're actually back home in your regular ol' home country. Many a study abroad returnee has lamented over how annoying the American accent is or how obnoxious, unhappy, self-centered, uncultured, overworked -- insert adjective here -- people are back at home.
On the flip side, there's ice in your water, unlimited free soda refills, hot showers, cold air conditioning, and all the comfort foods you desperately missed while abroad. And sometimes even those wonderful conveniences can be a bit overwhelming. But there are some positives to this stage of re-entry, so take a deep breath and pay close attention to all your reverse culture shock observations, because they can actually be of great use to you!
Share your experiences with others
If you just come home and shove your international experiences in the back drawer of your mind, how can you learn from them? Sharing your experiences abroad and observations with others will often help you sort through them yourself and gain an understanding of all that you did learn -- and are still learning!
Sharing your experiences may lead others to decide to go abroad themselves, and you never know what kind of incredible domino effect you might begin! It may also help you find others who feel similar to the way you do about some of these "culture shock" aspects, and finding like-minded friends will help make your transition easier and help you stick with the changes in yourself and your lifestyle that you want to keep.
Ways to Share Your Experience
Embrace a different outlook
Did being abroad make you realize your priorities were all screwed up? Did living with a host family make you wish you were closer with your own family? Did living out of a suitcase make you realize how little you really need to be happy? Did the more relaxed work culture in your host country make you realize that you wanted a different lifestyle than the typical 9-5 American dream?
Reflect on these new things you learned about yourself and your outlook on life and don't lose them. It is so easy to come home and fall back into the trap of your old life and the same old routines, but don't let that happen. Part of the reason you went abroad was likely to create change in yourself and your life, so embrace that!
Keep those new good habits
Don't stop using those reusable grocery bags just because the supermarket doesn't charge your for plastic ones anymore. Don't stop walking everywhere just because now you can drive. Seek out local fresh food markets and shop like you did abroad, even if your local mega-mart might be more convenient.
Chances are while abroad you picked up a lot of habits that were actually better and healthier -- both for you and our planet! So don't give up and fall into lazy convenience just because you're back home and you can. Let your experience help make you a permanently new you.
Use what you've learned to gain direction
Take a look at all the things that have struck you -- good and bad -- as you readjust to "real life" life back home. Do some things stand out to you as being especially significant? Going abroad often shows you where your passions lie, but sometimes it's not totally clear until you return home. Did coming home make you realize the true issues that others around the globe face -- perhaps something related to poverty, the environment, or education -- that really got to you?
This may be just the nudge you need to understand what you should be pursuing with your life. This may mean a huge change in direction, or a small switch in focus, but reflecting on your thoughts and feelings and listening to your gut is hugely important in turning this aspect of your reverse culture shock into something positive moving forward.
Put it all together and admire your progress!
Take some time to sit with your thoughts and write down all your observations -- on the above three topics and anything else you might have noticed in picking apart your so-called "reverse culture shock." Better yet, journal about this every day or couple of days for a few weeks. Then go back and read.
You'll be able to see your progress and analyze what these shocks to your system actually mean. After some time you will be able to see how all these things that annoyed, irked, shocked or overwhelmed you are actually helping to shape you into a new, better version of yourself. Coming home is still part of the process, and you've worked so hard at documenting your time abroad, why would you stop now?
Pat yourself on the back and embrace this difficult re-entry stage. They say what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, and challenging yourself to make the best of this time will most certainly lead you to a better you and a better future!
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