Moving Back Home? How To Deal With Reverse Culture Shock
February 09, 2021
It’s quite common to move to another part of the world and experience a bit of disorientation and confusion. Barriers in language, differences in traditions and homesickness all make up the experience of culture shock. As you begin to settle in and make new friends those feelings of being unsettled tend to wear off. But what happens when it’s time to go back? Returning home is exciting, you get to be with family and friends and share stories about your adventures abroad. Yet for many students, returning home is just as difficult as leaving it. This can be attributed to a phenomenon known as reverse culture shock.
What is reverse culture shock?
Reverse culture shock is an emotional and psychological phenomenon that students may experience after returning to their home country from their time abroad. It can be just as challenging as regular culture shock, so don’t feel bad if you have difficulties readjusting. Reverse culture shock is subtle and takes time to show up. Once the elation of coming home wears off, many students begin to feel detached with their surroundings This includes facing problems with academic and hiring expectations of their home country, conflicting cultural identities, social isolation, anxiety, and interpersonal difficulties.
The majority of resources on international education focus on preparing students with the experience of moving overseas but very few address the shock students may face when they come home. Studies show that reverse culture shock has both a significant but negative impact on a student’s wellbeing. Though this may sound scary, there are ways international students can prepare themselves. Here are the 6 best ways to deal with the challenges of returning home.
Stay connected and stay informed
Pre-empt the dissonance you might feel and don’t distance yourself from home completely. It might be tempting to completely disconnect yourself from your home country once you’re abroad. However, it’s still important to keep up to date with what’s going on at home even while you are away. Staying connected with friends and family, following jobs postings on LinkedIn and keeping up with local news all help to maintain your relationship and awareness of what’s going on back home so that when you return you don’t feel unmoored. Being prepared by staying connected can also help combat those feelings of alienation.
Talk about your experiences
Share your “study abroad” experience with the people back home. This could be in the form of a blog post, video or anything on social media. If you participated in an exchange program, the best thing you can do is share your experiences with fellow students who may be interested in studying abroad. Not only are you giving back to the community, but you’re also expanding your network by connecting with others who are interested in international education or may have already been abroad. This is also a potentially effective way of breaking the ice with people working in the field you’re interested in.
Accept that it takes time to adjust and that you have changed
Just like it took you some time to get acquainted to a new environment, it will take time to get reacquainted with being at home. It’s important to acknowledge that you have changed and to embrace that personal development. Don’t rush the process of trying to get back to being “normal” once you return to your home country - which can have negative impacts on your mental health. Journaling, talking to a loved one or even catching up with your friends abroad can help you manage some of that anxiety that comes with reverse culture shock.
Follow job portals that cater to international students
Studying abroad is a major step towards developing your professional career. You’ve gained a lot of experience and now you need to find a company where you can apply all those new-found skills. Sites like Student Circus show job postings for students with international experience in their own home countries. It also provides tips for strengthening resumes and cover letters and other important resources to jumpstart your career. If you still have access to your university’s career hub, take advantage of any resources they may have. Don’t be afraid to get in contact with them once you return home to ask for advice about the best way to highlight your international experience in job applications.
Network. Network. Network.
Networking seems scary but it is super important to understand the job expectations of your home country as things may have changed while you were gone. Reach out to people on LinkedIn for an informational interview. This is a great way to gain insight into the industry of your interest and to get advice on how to tailor your job applications according to local industry standards. You can even take it one step further and ask to shadow an industry professional in order to further your understanding of the working culture. If you can’t get in contact with someone, a simple Google search about HR practices in your home country can also be helpful.
Finally, embrace the new personality perspective you’ve gained
Your time abroad should be embraced and you should consider it a major asset. To help minimize the effects of reverse culture shock, continue to infuse your international learnings into your daily routine - whether it’s the foods you eat, the movies you watch, the books you read or the news you consume. Don’t be afraid to highlight your travel abroad experience as a major milestone because it really is something to be celebrated. Cherish the anecdotes and memories you’ve made, along with the wide network of friends you have across the world.
You’ve gained many skills whilst abroad. Returning home might seem challenging at first, but use these tips and leverage your newly-acquired skills to embark on a path of growth and development.
Written by Lubna bin Zayyad
Lubna bin Zayyad is an international student from Canada studying at the University of Westminster.