Whether you study abroad for 3 weeks, a semester, two semesters or three years, eventually you’re going to have to return back to “real life.” You come home and for awhile life is great, you get to eat out at your favorite restaurants, you have your entire wardrobe to choose from, you can drive a car, see your friends and family, and walk around town and eavesdrop (because hey! You understand everything everyone is saying!). Your weekends no longer consist of living out of a backpack and everyone (and their mom) wants to know about the wonderful experiences you’ve had.
Then it hits you.
You hit that certain tipping point, whether it be your first day back at the old University or the first time you realize that no, you cannot in fact just jump over to Morocco for the weekend, it’s going to hit you. Reverse Culture shock, to some-if not most study abroad students- is typically much harder to get over than the initial culture shock. For me, it happened on New Year’s Eve. I was with my new beau standing outside a bar, waiting to be let in (“this would so never happen in Paris”). I live in Colorado, and typically New Years, or really any holiday that is between September and June, is an extremely chilly event. Standing outside in my cute, tasteful outfit, and here I am, surrounded by my peers, all dressed in mini dresses and high heels with absolutely NOTHING covering their legs or arms. After about three instances of me shouting to girls telling them to “put some damn clothes on”, my lovely, wonderful date decided that I was not yet ready to be brought back into society. He reluctantly took me home. I had suddenly placed myself on this high horse; I believed that I was ‘cultured’, that I knew better because I had lived in France.
The point is-I flipped out. You learn to adapt to a new culture so quickly while you study abroad, and then you’re thrown back into your old ways, and expected to act like nothing ever happened? You’re taught to accept new cultures while studying abroad, so then why is it so hard to accept the culture you used to live in? It’s rough, and we all go through it. Eventually your friends will get sick of hearing about “this one time in Paris,” and you’ll realize that only going to class once a week, rather than the required three times, will not in fact, help you pass the class.
For those of you who have finally returned home, or for those of you who soon will, I have some advice for you…
1. Make a deal with your close friends and family: allow yourself two weeks where they have to listen to your amazing adventures non-stop without complaining. After those two weeks are over, it’s your job to try and change the subject, attempt to get back into normal person mode.
2. Realize that life at home did move on without you: Although it may seem like you had so many more adventures than your friends at home, it’s good to remember that they did in fact go on living their lives while you were gone. It might be good to ask them about it every once in awhile.
3. Get involved with your University’s Study Abroad organization: It’s a great way to get together with other people who have had the same experiences as you, plus you can all discuss how worldly you are AND promote study abroad so other students can join in on the conversation!
4. Go to class: After spending a semester traveling in between “papers” and occasionally taking tests, it’s time to get back to the real world and be a participating student. Turn in your assignments on time, take good notes and stay focused. The second you skip one class, you’ll end up skipping more and more (take it from the girl who learned the hard way, after she missed a paper worth 20% of her grade).
5. Make time for your old friends: Although you may want to spend lots of time on skype talking to your new best friends or clicking through pictures, the easiest way for you to get acclimated to your old life is to spend lots of time with your old friends. Go to lunch, go to movies and get back into the swing of things. You have a lot to catch up on!
6. Make it a point to talk to far away friends: just because you’re home, doesn’t mean you have to cut off all connections with your study abroad life. Skyping your friends is a great way to let off steam. Just simply catching up is a great way to lessen the reverse culture shock. Chances are, your friends are going through the same things you are. Talk about it!
As I’ve only been home for 2 months, I can’t say that I’m completely okay with my return home. However, after attending a Study Abroad dinner last week (see tip #3), I’ve come to realize that I am definitely not the only one going through reverse culture shock. Some say it takes months, some say it can take over a year, but they all say that it does get better. You will be happy to be back, but don’t get me wrong; you’ll always miss your time abroad.