While there are always mixed emotions surrounding the return to SCU from abroad, International Programs is happy to help smooth your transition back into Santa Clara life. Here are some frequently asked questions as well as perspectives from former study abroad student hints drawn from the comments of hundreds of students who have experienced the joys and sorrows of returning from abroad.
What is reverse culture shock?
Reversed culture shock is the unexpected jolt of coming home to your previous culture. For some, it is a devastating experience that takes time and effort to conquer. For others, it is less painful or difficult. Common to all is the experience of leaving the United States, friends, and family. The new country presents challenges to your personality, your beliefs, your likes and dislikes. Returning means confronting your old world with your new self. The extent to which people experience culture shock varies tremendously. Examine the strategies for coping with culture shock and be ready to put them to use.
Upon returning to the U.S., what have been some of the biggest surprises for Santa Clara students?
- How very hard it has been to adjust. I usually handle change very well; never did I think that I would experience culture shock (because I didn't going over), but boy did I when I came home!
- Not as much had changed as I had expected, which in some way was a relief
- That half of the people I ran into everyday didn't even know that I'd been gone at all. Trying to answer "Hey, what's up?" after a year abroad is just mind boggling
- That I missed the things I thought I hated
- The pollution and tackiness of American culture. It was disgusting to see the pains we take to be beautiful. And now I'm back in the same groove
- How easy readjusting was
- That everyone spoke English and I could actually have a deep conversation with someone and understand explicitly what was being said
- That I didn't feel any immediate "return shock"-I was too tired and disoriented to feel much of anything
- How little international news is covered in our main newspaper
- That Americans can be just as inefficient as other countries
- How much I missed the personal freedoms here; I was restrained in my actions and display of personality while abroad but didn't realize how much it affected me
- People's unawareness about the world
- Realizing that I was in a different culture
- How lightly my parents reacted to my return
- I really missed the slower pace of life that I enjoyed abroad, and the meals, and the togetherness. It was hard to come back to a college campus after all that
- How dull everything seemed
- That some people were genuinely interested in hearing about my experience. This was a wonderful connection with some of my friends
How have returning students dealt with reversed culture shock?
- Attend the Re-Entry Day on campus to talk about the experience and hear about other's experience
- Spend some time alone to sort out our feelings, set new goals and priorities, and put things into perspective
- Participate in a retreat to think about your new place in life
- Write a letter or document to yourself, cataloging all the things you learned while you were abroad and that you don't want to forget - about yourself, your place in the world, your capabilities, etc.
- Consider writing this while you are still abroad and mailing it home to your "USA" self
- Consider the techniques you used to adjust to your host country, and use those same strategies
- Don't expect old friends to fit into your new needs. Seek out new friends if necessary
- Join the International Club at Santa Clara to keep learning and doing new things and meeting new people
- Don't try to return to the old situation because people and circumstances have changed
- Learn to distinguish between those who are mildly interested and those who want to hear the details
- Seek out your good friends and share both the joys and readjustment problems.
- Listen to your friends' experiences too
- Don't resent that your family/friends had experiences while you were gone, i.e., that life went on without you.
- Use diplomacy in raving about your host country: some people may feel that you have been disloyal to the U.S. and don't want to hear about your wonderful host country
- Don't impose your cultural changes upon others
- When asked stereotypical questions (such as "Aren't all Japanese short?"), respond with cultural relativism ("For Japan, no")
- Tell the facts and don't get emotionally defensive
- Maintain openness and be aware of your changes within and those of the environment
- Avoid considering that your new attitudes and goals are superior to those of your family/friends at home
- Stay healthy since stress may cause you to be unduly tired, easily depressed, or subject to minor illness. As simple as it sounds, make sure you get enough sleep and take care of yourself!
- Always rely on humor!
Your new view of the United States
Undoubtedly, your perception of the United States has been challenged since studying abroad. Keep in mind that most have not had the opportunity to see the U.S. from an international perspective.
Since studying abroad, I now see the United States…
- As having more cultural and societal influences on other countries than I had imagined
- In a better light - I hated it before I left, but missed it while I was away
- As a materialistic and capitalistic society
- Exactly the same
- With an international perspective
- More critically
- As an incredibly wealthy country with an extreme disparity between the rich and poor
- As progressive in movements such as the women's movement
- As the wonderful, influential, and important country that it is. How fortunate and proud I am to live in this country
The best way to adjust to SCU again is to…
- Remember that you can experience new and exciting things here at SCU too. It might not be as exciting as a bike ride through Amsterdam or New Year's Eve in Berlin, but you can always learn and explore new experiences
- Work with other international students who are experiencing your home country for the first time. Become involved with international students through the Drahmann Center's International Students Office and through the International Programs Exchange Students.
- Plan your future. You can travel again through a variety of options. Talk to the Career Center about opportunities to work abroad or to teach/volunteer abroad after graduation
- Hang in there. The homesickness for your other culture will pass
- Accept the fact that you missed out on some events with your friends, but don't be discouraged. Start your friendships with a fresh beginning
- Look at it like you have just transferred to a different college
- Grin and bear it. Get involved in activities that might relate to your experience
- Re-evaluate what you liked to do before you left and what you want to do now. Put the new you back into campus life
- Realize that not everyone is going to feel the way you do about other countries, the world, etc.
- Find your pace and don't rush into things
- Think up a new answer every time someone asks, "So how was____?"
Putting your study abroad experience into perspective
Keep your study abroad experience alive:
- Continue taking classes in your second language. Being able to speak your host country's language can help to keep your study experience alive
- Get involved with the International Programs Office. Spread the word about your program or the benefits of studying abroad. Talk to International Programs about becoming a Peer Advisor! Hiring takes place every January for a one-year appointment.
- Learn more about your host country by taking related classes
- Keep in touch with your friends in your host country. Address and stamp at least two envelopes so you write at least twice a year
- Share your photos with the Study Abroad office through the Study Abroad Photo Contest!
- Subscribe to an international newspaper or a magazine from your host country
If I could do it over, I would…
- Plan to stay for an entire year
- Spend less time worrying about if I was doing everything right, and spend more time just having fun and exploring the countryside
- Pick a different program
- Go to the places I meant to go
- Have indulged myself in more cultural activities
- Do it exactly the same, I think
- Take more money
- Choose a different residence arrangement
- Not come back. Well, not at least for a while!
The most important thing I learned was…
- I can live and function on my own and have fun
- Who I am, was, and will be
- I had the confidence to communicate in another language
- We're all very similar
- It is possible to get along with very little knowledge of a new language while traveling as long as you are friendly and polite
- That suffering builds character, and what seems horrible now may seem funny later
- Every culture has its problems and strengths
- That there are some things you cannot control, but everything works out
- As appreciation of differences, whether I liked them or not
- That I come from a relatively privileged background and country
- That America wasn't as bad as I thought
- That I can make my own pace and live up to MY standards
- I can make intimate and wonderful friendships, represent my nation with pride and humility, take care of my own plans and life, touch a special group of friends, and recognize the beauty of the earth and sea, all with success and joy
Read more tips for re-entry from The University of Notre Dame.
Welcome back. We are always anxious and willing to see your pictures, hear your stories and listen to what made your abroad experience wonderful or challenging or a learning experience. Please stop by and see us! Make sure to also share your pictures with us by participating in the Study Abroad Photo Contest.
"I left my study abroad experience with a newfound sense of the global impact I desire to have in my future career, cultivated academic interests, and created a new home for myself."