Understanding Reverse Culture Shock

By Francine Fluetsch on July 31, 2016

What do you think of when you hear about studying abroad? Maybe you think of a crazy adventure, a bit of culture shock, a new way to make friends, great Instagram photos, and some awesome food.

And while you might think that after all is said and done, you’d be happy to come back home and just reflect on the memories, you will, more likely than not, start to feel some reverse culture shock. I know it sounds crazy, that this can happen even after only three months, but going to other places changes you, for better or worse, and when you return home, it can’t just all go back to normal.

So here is some reverse culture shock you might experience and how to deal with it.

The food:

Man oh man, you are going to miss the food from abroad. At first, you will eagerly gobble up the items back home that you couldn’t get abroad, and for a little bit, it will be okay. After my year abroad in Malaysia, the first thing I ate when I got back was a burrito, because they don’t have Mexican food over there and I missed it dearly.

But after a while, I started to miss the amazing spices, and curries, and rice dishes that I just couldn’t get in the states. And it was torture! After your taste palette has been expanded, it is hard to have it go back to what it once knew, only now, something is lacking.

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So how do you cope? It honestly helps to talk about it with someone else, someone that was there too and gets it. My friend Sarah and I always talk about Swiss delicacies that you just can’t get here, and while it makes us both salivate, it also helps us remember and feel connected to what we once experienced.

It can also help if you try to recreate it. Don’t put too much hope into this, because it won’t be the same as getting the real thing, but the more you practice, the better you’ll get, and maybe you can recreate that food that you are so desperately craving.

Things you can do:

Studying abroad means getting to go with whatever rules that place sets out. If the drinking age is 18, you get to drink; if the clubbing age is 16, you get to go clubbing; if the public transport is outstanding, you get to go anywhere and everywhere, and so on.

At first this all seemed crazy and maybe a little scary to get used to. But once you mastered that underground subway, figured out all the bike trails that got you where you needed to go, and all the hottest night places to meet up with your friends, you probably had a sense of newfound freedom. This especially happens when students study abroad when they are 17 or 18, because at home they might not have as much freedom yet, but abroad, somewhere halfway across the world, everything changes.

When you get back from your adventures, you have to go back to how life was, where you need a car for everything, where you can’t just go clubbing or drinking whenever you want, and when there are rules again. This isn’t to say you can go absolutely crazy while you are abroad, but it will feel, for a time, like you are more constrained when you get back home. It will make you want to go back abroad so badly, a thought you maybe never thought that you would have.

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How to deal? Well, keep in mind that it’s okay to ache for your abroad life back, and as time goes on, you’ll readjust to how things are back home. Try to also find some positive things that you can do at home that you couldn’t do abroad, and focus on those. When we are aching for something, we idealize it and start to forget about the good that is around us, so if you can see the good in both, it will be a slightly easier transition.

The people:

Anywhere you go, people are going to act differently and hold different customs than what you are used to seeing back home. At first, when you get abroad, this is a culture shock, and you slowly have to get used to the way people live where you are visiting, and once you get to that point, your worldview will change forever.

Loren Colcol, a fourth year computer game design major at UC Santa Cruz, studied abroad in Paris for four months. Towards the end of it, he was ready to come home, thinking he missed it dearly and all of the people in it. He was ready to speak English freely again, to go to his local neighborhood stores and visit family and friends that he hadn’t seen in a while, but coming home was not exactly what he expected it would be.

“When I finally arrived at LAX I noticed a lot of things about America that caught me off guard. I realized that a lot of Americans, especially in Los Angeles, tend to be loud, fast paced, and not as laid back as Parisians seemed from my experience. I also noticed that my new sense of pride in being American was for the most part misplaced. Being in Paris was the first time I saw America as one place with one people. What I mean is that any differences that separate us Americans was removed from my mindset since I saw all Americans as a unified group of people.”

When we are missing something, we can easily glorify it, and Colcol was expecting to find something different upon his arrival, thinking he’d be coming back to the America that he knew and loved. But being abroad, he now had something to compare it to, and that can be scary.

Maybe we don’t want to always face the truth that our home isn’t always as wonderful as we once thought, but you can’t let things like this discourage you from traveling and seeing more. The more you see, the more your view of the world will change, and that mindset is exactly what we need to see progress happen in this world.

So you need to use this knowledge of the differences that you see in both the people and the culture to make changes that will better everyone. Maybe you’ll start small, by informing your friends and family how other people around the world do things and the benefits that they can bring, or maybe you’ll write about it, speak about it at conferences, who knows. The important thing is to take note of the differences you see in your home when you return, and how it makes you feel.

Hi! I'm Francine and I'm a fourth year Creative Writing major at UC Santa Cruz. I am one of the Campus life columnists on Uloop's National Team and also the campus editor for UCSC. I enjoy reading, writing, and taking selfies with my cat.

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