Cultural Experience | Resources

7 Ways to Cope with Re-Entry Shock

What do you do when you’re faced with the shock of the familiar?

Four months ago, I embarked on the most thrilling adventure of my life to Barcelona, Spain. During my time there, I experienced a roller coaster of emotions that I’ve come to understand as culture shock. I was “shocked” by the new faces, new languages, new environments, and realistically, the completely different and new way of living life. It was difficult to communicate, difficult to find my way around the city, and even difficult to convey my struggles to my friends and family in the United States. Nobody understood just how hard it was to adjust—and how could I expect them to? Nobody had experienced what I was experiencing. During those times that my culture shock was at it’s peak, I found peace of mind in the fact that in four short months, I would be back at home—where everything was convenient and familiar. Little did I know that the shock that I would experience upon my return to the U.S. would be 10X greater than the shock I was experiencing in Barcelona.

The re-entry shock I experienced when I returned to the United States was intense. I became frustrated with the familiarity of my everyday life. I began to question why Americans do simple things—like eat at 6p.m., or drink coffee on the go. I became bored, restless, and found myself missing all of the things about Barcelona that gave me culture shock initially. I missed the excitement of Barcelona’s wide, populated plazas, the fresh scent of “La Boqueria” (the fresh food market), and the people that I shared my daily life with. I found myself becoming angry and disheartened that my life was back to what it was before I left for Barcelona—boring and ordinary.

Though it was hard for me to re-adjust, I’ve found that it is possible. If you are struggling to overcome re-entry shock, don’t become discouraged. Instead, take my advice and follow a few of these suggestions that could help you cope with the shock of the familiar.

Share your experiences

Don’t feel bad about spilling your stories to your friends and family– they want to hear about your experiences! It’s okay to talk about your abroad friends, the unique excursions you went on and the ridiculous foods you ate. Your family and friends will be thrilled that you’re sharing your life with them.

By sharing your experiences with others, you will be able to re-connect with the ones you love, while reminiscing on your trip. It’s really the best of both worlds.

Attempt relaxation

Whatever it is that you do to relax, do it. Whether this means taking a two hour nap in the middle of the day, putting your headphones in and daydreaming about new adventures, or rewarding yourself with an all inclusive spa day, replace your boredom and frustration with relaxation.

By finding the time to truly relax, you can reflect on your months abroad, while mentally preparing yourself for a new beginning at home. Sometimes all it takes to re-adjust is allowing yourself the time to re-adjust at a slower, more relaxed pace.

Continue to practice new skills

Don’t forget about all of the skills you learned while abroad. Just because you’re home, doesn’t mean those skills won’t come in handy in your new, post-abroad life. Sign up for a Spanish class to brush up on your español, explore the New York City subway system to remain competent in your map skills, or climb the nearest mountain just to prove that you still can!

Make your new skills long-lasting. You never know how beneficial those skills will be in your future.

Stay in contact with those you met while abroad

Create a Facebook group, a group text, a GroupMe, a group something! Just because the “group” is no longer together, doesn’t mean you can’t stay really close friends. Make plans to visit one another, dream of future adventures together, and meet up for crêpes and a matinée if you’re ever in a close vicinity.

Staying in touch with your abroad friends will remind you that studying abroad wasn’t a dream– it was real, and you experienced it together.

Create a keepsake

Design your own travel blog, write down journal entries, make a scrapbook, create a travel Instagram page, or think of your own creative way to document your study abroad experience. If you have a collection of all of your study abroad memories in one place, it will be easy to go back in time and reminisce.

The worst part about re-entry shock is feeling like you’re forgetting the details of your trips. Make sure you remember even the smallest, silliest details by creating a keepsake that will last forever.

Value the differences between cultures

The frustration that accompanies re-entry shock is from comparing your home culture to your abroad culture. No matter which way you spin it, there are good and bad things about every culture you encounter, and comparing them will ultimately result in distaste for one or both cultures. Instead of trying to compare cultures, try to focus on valuing the differences between cultures. Think about every difference as something positive, rather than something negative. By doing so, you will let go of a lot of your frustration and have a much more flexible outlook on life.

Find a new adventure

Studying abroad was a once in a lifetime adventure, sure; but that doesn’t mean you can’t have other incredible adventures in your future. Make a bucket-list of places you want to visit before you’re 30, or plan a road-trip with your best friends for the summer after graduation. Don’t become disheartened because your study abroad experience has come to an end; instead, use your restlessness and your wanderlust as motivation to plan your next trip.

After all, you know that adventure awaits you.

Brooke Stafford

Pennsylvania State University | 11 stories

Brooke is currently a senior studying public relations and psychology at Penn State University. She is a curious mind, a social media enthusiast and well-traveled daydreamer. When she isn't fantasizing about her next big adventure, she is drinking chai, napping, or scrolling through

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