The Reality of Reverse Culture Shock
Coming home can be just as hard as leaving.
No one tells you what it’s like to come home from abroad.
You spend weeks and months planning, prepping, and stressing for your time in a different country. Experienced travelers and professionals share their best tips and tricks with you, making sure you know how to stay safe, how to pack efficiently, and how to adjust to your new culture. You watch instructional videos, read pamphlets, and try to mentally prepare for all the of the newness you’re about to experience.
Then, before you’re really ready, your time abroad is over. All of the stress and worry is over, and it is quickly replaced with excitement about seeing your family and friends, and everything being familiar again. No more language barriers, cultural differences, or time changes. You’re not entirely sure how it happened, but all that’s left to do is get on that plane and come back to the States.
Then what happens?
Sure, you get on that plane. You sleep, you eat, you watch some movies, and then you’re on the ground, navigating the familiar confines of your home airport, hearing and reading English around every corner. You see your family, go to your favorite restaurant, reunite with your friends. You should be happy. Thrilled. Ecstatic. But something feels off. Wrong.
And that’s the part that nobody talks about. Reverse culture shock. They prep you for everything you’re about to experience abroad, but going back home and adjusting back into that life? There’s no class for that.
You’re left sitting in your room, scrolling through your pictures, hopelessly trying to convince yourself of how cool you were mere weeks ago. Gone are the days of endless freedom. You had minimal homework, minimal responsibilities, and no less than an infinite number of possibilities every day. There was always a new restaurant, bar, or park to go explore after class. Your list of foods to try was never-ending, and you were constantly checking things off your bucket list. You could meet new people around every corner. Every day had at least one Instagram-worthy moment. You learned something new about yourself and the world with each passing minute.
And then they make you go home. What was once familiar suddenly feels anything but. Your room and your house feel like they belong to someone else from a different time, and you look at them with new, fresh eyes. Your regular routine feels mundane. Your town is small and uneventful. You are no longer surrounded by culture, history, and excitement every minute of every day.
While this probably sounds like a privileged kid complaining about having to leave Europe, it’s really much more than that. It’s the nostalgia of having to leave this foreign city that has become your home. You leave home to go embark on this journey, with an immeasurable number of question marks, and by the time you get back, your life will never be the same.
You are forever changed by travel. You see parts of the world you only ever dreamed of, and in turn, discover parts of yourself you never would’ve thought possible. You are forced to think on your feet and navigate obstacles you couldn’t have written up before you left. You learn independence, trust, and confidence. You are not the same person in that airport as you were the day you left. There’s no way you could be.
So now what? How do you deal with it all? After experiencing it myself, I’m not really sure there’s a hard and fast answer. It takes time, that is for sure. Your world is forever changed, and so is the way with which you view it. After awhile, you come to terms with the fact that while your abroad experience may be physically over, it will affect the way you live the rest of your life, and that is something truly special. Travel allows you to see the simplest things differently, and while coming back isn’t easy, your appreciation for this earth, and your limited time on it, is something you never have to give away.