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Getting Over Reverse Culture Shock

Experienced by students, expats and backpackers alike, the reverse culture shock phenomenon
can have several negative effects on a person’s re-entry to their home country. Recognising
what it is and learning how to overcome the emotions associated with reverse culture shock can
make the transition home that much easier. As the author Robert Black said; “When you travel
overseas, the locals see you as a foreigner, and when you return, you see the locals as
foreigners.” This quote is an accurate description of what reverse-culture shock feels like and
understanding that it is normal to experience these feelings is an important step to overcoming
them.

Familiarity is the reason behind culture shock. At home, everything feels commonplace; the food
we eat, the streets we drive along, the routines and attitude of society. Moving abroad can throw
a spanner into this feeling of security and familiarity, thus the term ‘culture shock’. Before
heading abroad to work or study, UCC students are warned about the typical culture shock
timeline and how it presents itself. After an initial ‘honeymoon period’ upon arrival, during which
everything seems new and exciting, (and many people feel like tourists), it is normal to fall into
the pit of culture shock. This happens as differences appear, either positive or negative.
Gradually, as the traveller settles into this new culture and accepts the differences, they begin to
feel stable and comfortable in their new country.

We are warned about these feelings presenting themselves upon our return home, but many
won’t consider this until they are back at home, feeling lost and frustrated. Reverse culture
shock can leave us bored, disconnected from family and friends and annoyed with our daily
lives. After being away for an extended period of time, (such as a year abroad), things will have
changed. It is important to consider that you have changed, home has changed and above all,
you have adapted to another culture which is different to what you will return to. The initial
excitement at being home with your friends and family may wear off, leaving you yearning for
your life abroad.

I personally struggled with this when I first came home from Erasmus. The first two weeks were
excellent; I had my double bed, my pets, my mom cooking dinner every night. I’d just started an
internship, but after a while I became bored and lost my sense of purpose. Gone was the
spontaneity of my life abroad; the ability to get up and walk ten minutes to the nearest nightclub
or hop on a train Friday evening to arrive in another country Friday night. Even though I had felt
ready to come home, the re-entry did not go as smoothly as I had expected. After a while I
turned to other friends who had been away, asking them if they felt the same way. Most did,
expressing that things felt very different and they couldn’t wrap their heads around it.

With the arrival of September and the start of semester one, many students are making their
way home from J1s or working somewhere in Europe. To help make the transition easier, I have
compiled a short list of tips to try and keep the feelings of reverse culture shock in check.

Disclaimer: This advice is coming from my own experience and that of other students, I am not
a medical professional. If you are struggling and need to talk to someone, UCC offers a free
counselling service in the Student Health Centre. To make an appointment you can drop into
their building on College Road or contact them on +353 (0)21 4902311.

1. Focus on what you missed while you were abroad.
Instead of reflecting on all the positive aspects of life abroad that you miss, turn your mind
towards being home. Enjoy the experiences that you longed for while you were abroad;
whatever it was that might have made you homesick. From your mom’sA cooking to meeting
friends in your favourite bar, dive into appreciating the little things. Eat in your favourite
restaurants, go for walks around your area and reconnect with family and friends.

2. Keep yourself busy.
Having too much free time and nothing to focus on can have a negative effect on your mood,
and it allows you plenty of moments to dwell on missing your old life rather than settling back to
life in Ireland. I was lucky enough to start an internship the week I returned home, so I didn’t
have a lot of time to throw a pity party.
Take up a new hobby, start a DIY project, head off on road trips; try to keep yourself busy.
Coming home to an empty calendar and sparse social life can exacerbate the negative feelings
associated with reverse culture shock, as it is often a huge contrast to the hectic life you’ve left
behind.

3. Stay true to yourself.
Living abroad can have a significant impact on us, from our personality, tastes and attitudes to
our sense of style. Upon returning home, you might find that things haven’t changed at all since
you left and you can feel a little lost.
Moving back to where you grew up, surrounded by friends and family might leave ‘the new you’
feeling like you don’t fit in. It can put pressure on you to change, or to give up the international
thinking to feel a part of the ‘old group’. Try to maintain this ‘new you’ when you move back and
allow your personality to continue evolving.
This being said, don’t be that person who comes back and starts comparing your hometown to
where you have been. Your friends and family won’t appreciate you making constant, negative
comparisons.

4. Share the experience.
It’s more than likely that, after a while, your family will get a little fed up hearing stories about
your life abroad. Reach out to others who have shared the experience of studying or working
overseas. Staying in contact with friends you made during your time away can help, as you can
reminisce and share stories together. Keep each other updated on your lives at home and don’t
be afraid to explain what you’re missing and how you’re feeling.

5. Look forward
Lastly, there is no point in wallowing in the past, because time travel hasn’t been invented yet.
Instead of staying stuck in the past and spending time missing your ‘old life’, turn your focus to
what you’re going to do next. Start planning trips, investigate job opportunities, get yourself
ready for the next semester of university, (if you have one.) I was only home about two weeks
when I started buying flights. I definitely caught the travel bug while on Erasmus, and now all of
my money is being set aside for new trips.

In short, don’t let reverse culture shock hold you back. It is perfectly okay to look back on your
time abroad and miss it but be sure you’re not allowing the past to overshadow your future.
Don’t forget, you can always move away again in the years to come if you want to.