Studying abroad is one of the most eye-opening, rewarding experiences any student will undertake. Whilst pre-departure nerves are a widely recognised reality, you probably won’t be told about the ‘reverse culture shock’ you might experience upon your return.
Reverse culture shock is the term given when you feel a sense of disconnection and unease when arriving back in your home country. After having lived abroad in a foreign place with new rules, social cues and customs for so long you start to adopt these new habits as the norm. However, not only this, but your entire view of life and new wealth of experience will give your mind a totally different perspective than before you left. This can make coming home and settling back into reality extremely difficult. Student Life Guide spoke to students who have just returned from studying abroad to get a list of the best advice to help anyone suffering from post-exchange blues.
Everything in your life will have changed but most things at home will be the same
You’ve travelled the world and seen things you never thought possible. You’ve made new friends, visited new places and witnessed just how differently people live in other countries across the world. Your mind will have altered irrevocably, so it can be hard to come to terms with the fact that when you come home most things will have stayed the same. Your house looks the same, your family lead the same lives. It almost feels as though studying abroad never happened- that it was a dream- as everything remains much as you left it. The important thing to remember here is that it did happen- and you’re better off because of it! You have a wealth of fond memories and stories to draw upon. Life at home might be the same, but the way you approach it will be not be. You’re a smarter, wiser, more cultured person- so embrace it!
The first time you see your friends will be a bit awkward
You haven’t seen each other for at least six months and although you’ve had the occasional catch-up Skype, it’s impossible to keep up to date with everything going on in their lives. Thus, when you reunite for the first time, after the hugs and tears of joy, you might feel a bit stumped for conversation as you just don’t know where to begin. The key thing to remember in this is that it’s totally normal. Plus, once you start to spend more time with your friends and get back into the swing of things you’ll find your friendship goes back to normal- or even becomes stronger as you realise just how much you’ve missed having them around!
Matt, a third-year politics student, told Student Life Guide, “It’s also important to realise that your friends’ lives have moved along too, a year is a long time when you’re young and don’t be surprised if after the big welcome back at the pub you don’t have much in common anymore, it’s more natural than you think.”
You miss your exchange friends
Having said all that, there will inevitably be a part of you that yearns to be back with your friends from exchange. Again, this is also totally normal. You have just spent the last six months (or more) in each other’s company after all! It might even be the case that you prefer some of your exchange friends to your mates from home. This is also inevitable as you and your exchange friends immediately have your thirst for travel in common. Instead of dwelling on the past and wishing you could go back, why not plan a trip to reunite some point in the future? This way you can have something to look forward to and reignite your inner explorer once more.
Home life just feels a bit dull
After spending the last year or six months abroad, returning home can feel a little underwhelming. Part of the thrill of studying abroad is the fact that everything is new and different from home. You have no (or very few) responsibilities so packing up and going travelling in and around your new country becomes a normal part of life. At home, this kind of easy-breezy lifestyle is near impossible to maintain. A good way to cope with this frustrating feeling is to try and visit new places where you live. We often take our own country for granted as we can visit these places at any time, so why not take advantage of that opportunity and start now! This way you can way you can feed your appetite for travel without being too disruptive of life at home.
And finally… some tips direct from students who have just returned!
Matt explained how he dealt with that feeling of being trapped at home, “I lived in Canada for a bit and my head was all over the place for quite some time when I came back to the UK. The key is understanding that the grass is not greener and everyone goes through the same problems, no matter where you are. Every place and its people has its pros and cons. Don’t be surprised or hurt if your parents and friends cannot understand what you’re going through, how could they? Try and find the best in where you now live and make it work for you!”
Beth, a third year History student said, “After initial excitement faded I felt disappointed at the fact that home was not living up to the expectations that I’d built up over the year. I missed certain people and their more chilled and friendly way of life. My tip would be to try and use your new experience to make a better impact on the world!”