Lately, I’ve been getting a lot of questions about reverse culture shock symptoms and reverse culture shock as a study abroad student from prospective study abroad students heading off in the next term or looking to come to London at some point in the future.
Those conversations are filled with excitement and curiosity and wondering about the days ahead and what they might find different about the UK compared to home.
Besides the actual time you spend on a trip, the “planning” stages are always the best.
What will you do?
Will David Beckham leave Posh Spice for you?
Will the Queen wave to you as she drinks her morning tea?
Will you fall madly in love with a charming British boy who sweeps you off your feet and convinces you to runaway to Europe with him and get married? (Answers: No, no, and possibly, but don’t do it).
The downside of living abroad, though, is that it (usually) comes to an end.
The end of a semester, both in December and again in April/May means the return to the US for thousands of American students who spent the semester abroad.
For many people, the stages of reverse culture shock look like the following:
- Spending your last days in London buying various touristy souvenirs you were too embarrassed to buy all semester, but now it’s like, I don’t care who sees me, I want that Prince Harry bobblehead.
- Discussing with your roommates what you will do when you first get home (answers include: stuff my face with Lucky Charms, take a really hot shower using my parent’s hot water and not my dorms, spend 12 hours in Target).
- Arriving home and being overjoyed to see your family and friends
- Realizing that home is nothing like London and calling your best friend from London at 3am crying over how much you miss Piccadilly Circus
- Calling your best friend from London at 2am crying over how much you miss Camden Town
- Calling your best friend from London at 3pm crying over how much you miss Tesco, even though no one should miss Tesco and you were a Sainsbury’s person anyway
- Bundling yourself up in a dark room and making a list of all the things you hate about America and why you were destined for a life abroad
Clearly, there are a lot of emotions involved.
“Culture shock” is the fun part: sure, it can be difficult to adjust to things in your host country, but you’re abroad! You’re young! You’re having the time of your life! Overcoming culture shock feels like a breeze once you’ve truly settled in.
How to Overcome Reverse Culture Shock
“Reverse culture shock” and dealing with reverse culture shock as an expat or a study abroad student is it’s not-so-fun cousin where you feel like you’ve gone backwards in life and you are oh-so-sophisticated now and NO ONE UNDERSTANDS.
Definition of Reverse Culture Shock
Investopedia defines reverse culture shock as, “the emotional and psychological distress suffered by some people when they return home after a number of years overseas. This can result in unexpected difficulty in readjusting to the culture and values of the home country, now that the previously familiar has become unfamiliar.”
Symptoms of Reverse Culture Shock
The things that once seemed so welcoming and inviting to you now seem like a cruel reminder that you’re no longer in your foreign country of choice.
You start to realize that your friends and family at home have been living their same lives for the past couple of months while you’ve been away jet-setting around the globe, and it’s difficult to relate (but seriously, do not be that snotty person who thinks they’re better than other people just because you’ve been to Greece a few times!)
Most people will slowly move away from this phase and integrate just fine back to life at home. I was not so great at this part, which is how I got back to London for good.
Tips for Dealing with Reverse Culture Shock
There are the obvious tips to dealing with reverse culture shock: tell people your stories and bore them with thousands of pictures, do the things in your town that you did really miss to remind yourself that life is still worth living (I’m half joking, but that’s what it feels like), and try to get involved in your ‘home’ friends’ lives again and ask THEM about what they’ve been up to while you were away.
The reality is that there’s not much else you can do besides wait it out.
Eventually the 3am calls to your best London friend will shift to more normal hours and you’ll talk about other things (occasionally).
You’ll be starting a new semester or new year or new job back home and you will be distracted by those preparations.
The best part is that you can always come back.
Of my study abroad friends, many have come back to visit as tourists again to see parts of the UK they missed or to revisit their old London favorites.
A few have come back to intern or do another degree. A couple have even moved over on relationship visas to spend their lives here.
I was planning my next trip to London during my flight home, and you can too.
This is not the end of your travel adventures or freedom.
The entire world is now yours to explore (except, I suppose, North Korea), so take advantage of your experiences and keep going with it.
And if you’re still struggling, send me an email and ask to guest post and/or talk forever about how much you miss London.
Been there, done that, got the t-shirt (from shopping in Primark, obviously).
Most importantly, be kind to yourself. I wish I had realized what I was going through when I was going through it instead of panicking at why everything felt so foreign and so pointless.
Just as you had to let yourself go through culture shock at your own pace, you have to do the same for reverse culture shock. You’ve just had a life-changing experience and it’s true that many people don’t understand what you did overseas because it’s your journey.
Take it one day, one phone call, one Throwback Thursday Instagram post at a time, and you will adjust again.