Cultural Experience | Resources

Working your way through Re-entry Shock from Traveling Abroad

How to deal with the trials of coming back from study abroad.

When one decides to study abroad, their international education office typically gives them a packet of information to help them adjust to life in a foreign country. The packet explains basic cultural aspects, information about the country and basic need to know information. Within this packet there may also be a sheet of paper with a graph on it. The graph also known as the cultural adjustment curve, has different parts to it depending on the version your school gives out. However, the main points that every graph seems to have are: Honeymoon, culture shock, adjustment, re-entry shock, and reintegration.

Now, one may think the hardest part of studying abroad is the culture shock phase. You are somewhere new, you have no idea what is going on, and it can be very overwhelming. However, the phase that can be more difficult to deal with is the re-entry shock phase. While it’s nice to be back on your home turf, you will soon realize that things are just not quite the same. Here’s some tips of dealing with re-entry shock:

1. Prepare yourself before you get back

When you return home from studying, working or just visiting abroad, all you want to do is talk about your adventures overseas, and for good reason. While you were in this foreign place you experienced things you never have before, you had some adventures (and some misadventures), and your view of the world has most likely changed. No matter your experience abroad, you have stories to tell; but, the sad reality of the situation is that most of the people you were most excited to tell about your time out of the country don’t want to hear about it. Just prepare yourself for this and…

2. Don’t take it personal

It’s not that they don’t care, they just can’t relate. Imagine a rugby player trying to explain what it’s like being on the pitch, with 250 pound man barreling towards you. You can imagine the feeling but until you have experienced it for yourself you can’t fully understand the situation.  So, when you try to talk to your friends and family about the time you got lost and stumbled upon a charming, little café you found tucked behind an old cathedral, they find it interesting but they haven’t been there. You’ve spent time in the country and learned how it worked, and for them never being there it’s harder to grasp locale and culture. So don’t feel bad when they have a glazed over look when you talk, they just don’t get it.

3. Keep in contact with the friends you made abroad

Your friends and family may not be able to relate, but you know who can? The people who were in the same boat as you when you were abroad, and the ones who are dealing with similar re-entry shock problems. When you are feeling a little down about being home, a great pick-me-up is chatting with the friends you made and reminiscing about your time abroad. You’ll have fun laughing together about the adventures you had, and can act as a support system for one another when it comes to coping with re-entry shock.

4. Reminiscence, just not too much

With that, although reminiscing with friends is a good coping method, doing it too much will just further alienate you.  You will find yourself miss being a part of the culture and city you immersed yourself into, you long for a pastry from your favorite bakery down from where you stayed, and you hate the fact that you can’t hop on a train or a cheap EasyJet flight and be in a different country every weekend. Although it sucks being away from what you probably consider your second home, you need to work on reintegrating into your family and friend circles. Which leads to the next tip…

 5. Get back into the groove of things

According to the re-entry shock phase, you will exist in an area of disconnect for a while. During this period, you will feel that nothing has changed at all but you are out of step with everything going on, or that everything has changed and familiar things are now foreign. No. The world doesn’t revolve around you but at the same time it’s hard to deal with the fact that the world kept turning while you were gone. You may find that a lot happened while you were away and it is important for you to catch up with happened. It’s the first step of joining the “real world” again. Go grab lunch with one of your best friends and have him or her fill you in on things that occurred while you were abroad. That way when you go to hang out with the rest of your friends you are not completely out of the loop.

6. Things get better

You’ll start to be a part of the flow again, and won’t feel like such an outcast in your social circles. It will take some time, but like in eighth grade when you had bangs that covered your heavily eyelinered eyes, re-entry shock phases out. So, don’t let this awkward stage get you down. You have endured foreign public transport and immersed yourself into a completely different culture, you can reintegrate into your home life.

Timpani Woodson

Northern Arizona University | 4 stories

Timpani Woodson is a journalism and public relations student at Northern Arizona University. She enjoys being on the road and up in the air. Timpani studied abroad in London,England and plans to return there in September. Rome, Dubrovnik and Dublin are a few of the places on her travel bucket list. You can keep up with Timpani's adventures by following her on Instagram at @timpaniporshay.

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