Kara deVries, a 20-year-old student from Ohio, has just ended her journey from studying abroad in London. Her mom and her best friend are waiting for her at the gate. All she can think of is sleeping in her comfy bed and having American cheese for the first time in four months. Home sweet home, she thinks. Like most students who return back from abroad, deVries’s sense of euphoria was cut short – she started to long for London. Everything from the iconic double decker buses, the British accent, and her favorite pub near the Angel tube station. She feels like the adventures she had abroad could never compare to life back home.
What deVries is experiencing is called reverse culture shock. Also called “reentry,” reverse culture shock is the reaction to returning back home after experiencing another culture and is common among students who study abroad. Most study abroad programs prepare their student for culture shock, providing them with resources and information on how to adapt to a new culture away from life back home. However, what students should be most worried about is the thoughts of disconnect and depression when returning home. According to StudyAbroad.com, there are four stages of reverse culture shock: disengagement, initial euphoria, irritability and hostility, readjustment and adaption.
Those were the same symptoms I encountered when I returned from studying abroad in London during my freshmen year in spring 2012. I know from personal experience and through my friends who also studied abroad that reverse culture shock is much harder to experience than regular culture shock. You feel like a different person. You don’t know how to act. You don’t know your closest friends and family anymore. It is a lot of emotional anxiety that convinces many students to yearn to go back. As a study abroad mentor, I see this phenomenon affect all students that study abroad. It is hard to recognize that your home no longer seems like home. You suddenly get angry at the practices of your home culture –nothing makes sense.
After observing my experiences and the experiences of my friends, I want to share with you some tips that have helped in dealing with post-study abroad depression and readjusting to life back home.
1. Call your mom. If you are still abroad, make sure to keep in contact with friends and family. Not only does keeping in touch stop you from getting homesick, it helps you catch up on what’s going on at home so you are in the loop. Maintaining your relationships at home will help you get through your post study abroad depression when you get back. With your friends supporting you, they will make sure you receive a warm welcome. But remember not to Skype and call your family all the time. You don’t want to spend your study abroad experience in your room. I suggest contacting your family and closest friends once a week. You went abroad for a reason, so go out and enjoy it.
2. Reconnect with old friends. Maybe it’s already too late for you. You got so busy with traveling, school, and meeting foreign guys or girls that you forgot to Skype your best friends every week like you promised. It’s okay to call them when you come back. Some of them will want to know all your adventures. Sharing all the pictures and stories with them will let you relive those great memories while sharing those experiences with your friends. You should also be prepared that friends from home feel isolated or turned off when you talk about your great adventures abroad all the time. It’s not that they don’t care –they just can’t relate. While you tell your stories, make sure you listen to how their lives were when you were gone.
3. Hang out with study abroad friends. Sometimes all you need is a little mediation session with your study abroad friends. They are going through the same thing as you. They are re-adjusting and getting used to life back home. Share your problems about adapting to home and help each other out. I know when I first came back from London it was nice for me to talk about my London experiences with my friends that studied abroad with me. “Sometimes when I talk to my friends, I feel like I’m talking about London too much and it seems I’m bragging, but I just want to relive my memories,” said deVries, “but if I am talking to people who went with me, it’s okay because they were there.” It is more than okay to talk with your study abroad friends about your foreign travels –they get it.
4. Get involved! The best way to get over study abroad depression is to participate in school clubs and activities. It’s normal to become bored by life after study abroad, and it may seem like nothing can compare to your experience abroad- try to get yourself out of that mindset. There is so much more to be experienced even locally and around your home campus. If you want adventure –join a hiking or rockclimbing club. Want culture? Join a Spanish or Asian club. There are many opportunities to get excited about life.
5. Keep in touch with friends you met abroad. Your friendships don’t have to end when you get on the plane. Skype and email your friends from abroad and tell them how much you miss life abroad. I’m sure they will want to know what you are up and how life is back home. A good way to share your life is to send them a package with goodies that represent home. In exchange, your abroad friends could send you your favorite candy bars and trinkets from overseas. This is a great way to have a little piece of your abroad life back home.
6. Get Closure –through scrapbooking. When I returned back to Newark International Airport, I still could not believe my adventures in London were over. One way I dealt with getting closure is by collecting all my pictures, artifacts, and maps creating a scrapbook filled with my memories. Through reflecting back on the experience, I was able to see how I’ve changed and grown. I had a better understanding of who I was and what is important in my life.
7. Start new adventures in your local area. Gather your friends together and take weekend road trips to great American sights and cities. One of the many things that I missed while abroad was constantly seeing and experiencing new things. To fulfill your craving for adventure make an effort to venture out of your dorm and do new things. Go visit your friends at other universities and explore the cities. A cheap way of traveling to various cities in the U.S. and Canada is through Megabus and Boltbus. If you purchase your tickets early through their website, you can get tickets as cheap as $1. Recently I purchased a round trip from New York to Boston for only $35 –not bad at all.
8. Plan to study abroad again! Heck, if you can afford it and your course schedule can handle it, then do it! Studying abroad again will be a very different experience. You have already studied abroad before so now you know what kinds of questions to ask your study abroad advisor. You are much smarter and wiser and understand the process better than when you first studied abroad. This time you won’t go to the tourist attractions; you will understand the foreign country in a different way. You will become more of a local and be a true native of your foreign country.
Remember: it always gets better. Don’t be discouraged. It is normal to experience sadness and miss your home abroad. The key to dealing with post study abroad anxiety is to find balance between your old and new life. You’ve learned so much about yourself. You have a better understanding of your goals. Now use this new understanding to find more enjoyment in your current life.
Photography credit to Jay Peg via Creative Commons Licensing.