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reverse culture shock after studying abroad

How to Deal with Reverse Culture Shock After Studying Abroad

After spending a semester abroad, American students usually return back to the states and experience something they’ve never felt before. You’ll most likely have reverse culture shock after studying abroad, which is the opposite of what you probably first experienced when you got to your study abroad destination.

The symptoms of reverse culture shock

You’ll know you’re experiencing reverse culture shock after studying abroad if you:

– Feel nostalgic for your semester abroad

– Feel like your friends and family back home don’t understand you

– Feel like you’ve grown as a person, but maybe the people surrounding you haven’t changed

– Feel the need to connect with your study abroad friends constantly

– Have feelings of sadness and maybe even contempt for certain elements of your life back at home, including the USA as a whole.

I remember when I first returned back to New York after I studied abroad, and all I wanted to do was talk about what I did and how much I had learned about the world. I had a new outlook on the country I grew up in (mainly, that we don’t actually have it all figured out) and no one back at home could understand what I was talking about.

It was a weird feeling, and I felt so uneasy that just a week after returning back home to my family, I booked a trip to visit my study abroad friends in Virginia, because I just couldn’t deal. It helped majorly, even if my parents were upset with me for leaving so quickly!

*A note — if you’re feeling really down, consider going to speak to a professional. You might feel so much better after talking to someone with no bias for even just an hour.

You get a weird feeling when you return home from your study abroad semester, and might find it tough to get used to being back in the US with your family and friends. That's called reverse culture shock-- here are our tips for how to deal with it.

How to deal with reverse culture shock after studying abroad

If you’re feeling the reverse culture shock, there are a few things you can do make your transition back to your life in the US a bit easier.

Eat all of the foods you missed while abroad

Chipotle burritos. Chicken caesar salads. Your mom’s meatloaf. No matter where you studied, there were definitely some foods that you craved while studying abroad. Quench the cravings! In fact, when I arrived back to the US, my parents, who hadn’t seem me in three months, absolutely loved taking me on a tour of the very American things I hadn’t had while I was away. It’s a great way to bond with your family.

Stay in touch with the friends you made

You might be tempted to reminisce about every single experience you had abroad with everyone. Although your friends and family will love to hear about your adventures, they won’t be able to relate to much of what you have to share. So get your abroad friends’ American phone numbers and Skype names so you can relive your best moments with the people that shared them with you. This was vital for me when I was dealing with reverse culture shock after studying abroad.

Spend time with your friends and family

You haven’t seen them in person for months, and they’ve missed you just as much as you’ve missed them. Even if you’re feeling a bit “off”, take some time to show your family that you appreciate the amazing experience they provided you, and catch up with friends so you can hear all about what they did since you last saw them.

Keep busy

Most study abroad students come home and have at least a few week’s break before heading back to their home college. I personally think this makes reverse culture shock even harder, because you go from constantly doing fun, exciting things in a foreign country, to being back at home with not much to do and too much time to think.

Try to fill your time as much as possible once you get back from study abroad, whether it’s by getting a job, planning a road trip, or even just helping Mom and Dad with some projects around the house. For something a little more fun, try my next point…

Get creative with your photos

If you’ve got tons of photos from your study abroad semester, take some time to do something creative with them. Check out our travel DIY Pinterest board for inspiration, and plan to make a scrapbook or a wall collage for your apartment.

If you’re not good with glue and scissors, order your favorite photos on canvases, or make them into a photo book, magnets, an iPhone case, or even a pillow.

Find bits of your abroad experience in the US

Believe it or not, you may be able to get some of your study abroad faves back at home. Many supermarkets now have international sections, where they have beer, cheeses, and other specialty food products from all over the world. Your best bet is to visit a specialty food store, such as Whole Foods or a local international shop, to find the goods. You can find a lot of international products online as well, just Google the item you’re craving and see if you can get it online.

After I studied abroad in Belgium, I lived in New York City for the summer and ended up having a weekly date with an authentic Belgian waffle truck every Wednesday with a couple of my study abroad friends also living in the city. Major cities in the US usually have lots of international cuisine, so make the trip if you have to.

reverse culture shock

Contain your worldly-ness

Many ex-study abroad-ers find themselves, er, disliking America and what it stands for upon their return. After months of living in a different country, where every aspect of life contrasts what you’ve grown up with, your outlook on how Americans live their lives is now very different from how it was before you left.

You may be tempted to comment on every little “Americanized” thing that your friends or family do– like super sizing their meals. This new you that you’ve become after your study abroad experience is great, and never lose this new perspective. But just be sure to not share it SO much that you seem condescending or rude.

How will you be dealing with your reverse culture shock after studying abroad? Let me know in the comments.

Read next:

Gift ideas for people suffering reverse culture shock

What to Do With Your Study Abroad Photos

Photo sources: Flickr, CanvasPop, Thumbpress


Jess is the Editor-in-Chief of The Abroad Guide. After studying abroad in Belgium during her junior year of college, she caught the travel bug. Her experiences include volunteering in Nicaragua, backpacking through Europe, and a year-long adventure in Italy, and she's now settled in London.


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