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What No One Tells You About Studying Abroad: Coming Home

How to navigate the ups and downs of studying abroad, even when you come back home.


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Whether you are studying abroad for a week, a month, or a year, we all know that going to a new country can bring all sorts of challenges. You might get homesick. You might not be used to the food. You might have a hard time adjusting to a country’s way of life.

We know this experience as “culture shock”, and most people are prepared to experience it when studying abroad. 

However, while “culture shock” is a well-known term, not many people talk about the phenomena known as  “reverse culture shock”. 

What is reverse culture shock? 

While you may experience the initial shock of being in a new country, after a while, you settle into your new life abroad. So, when you return home, you have to learn to readjust all over again. After spending a long time abroad, you may come back home to what feels like a different place.

Additionally, studying abroad probably changed you as a person. You might have adopted values and customs that don’t exist in your own country. Having to readjust to the country that you grew up in can feel incredibly frustrating. 

Image by Safa Bilal

What can you do? 

I talked to two of my friends who studied abroad in China. One went to Beijing for two months and the other went to Nanjing for a year. Both experienced “reverse culture shock” to varying degrees. 

They both told me that the best way to overcome this feeling is to accept that you are different from who you were when you left. And there is nothing wrong with that! Instead of comparing your life abroad with your life back at home, share your experiences abroad with friends and family. If you have friends and family who have never studied abroad, or who have never been abroad, sharing your experiences with them is the best way for you to reminisce on your amazing study abroad experience while teaching friends and family a thing or two about being abroad. 

So, while you may miss the family you created abroad, the foods you grew accustomed to eating, the culture and ideologies that you became exposed to, my two friends offered a few actionable steps you can take: 

  1. Add your study abroad friends on social media! 
    This advice is probably a given. Not only add them on social media but keep them up-to-date with any future plans to study abroad or plans to go back to where you studied. Maybe you can create future travel plans with them too!

  2. Show-and-tell
    Create a slideshow or scrapbook of the memories you created abroad. Make a list of the best memories you created, the life lessons you learned, and the coolest foods and restaurants you tried. Sit down with friends and family and share it with them.

  3. Practice the language 
    After you come back from abroad, you will have a rich, new perspective and higher proficiency in Chinese, English, etc.. Keep the momentum going! When you come back, there is no better way to feel connected to your study abroad experience than to immerse yourself in the language learning process.

Looking forward

As we begin to book tickets to study abroad this summer, the upcoming semester, or the upcoming year, remember that big changes are going to take place. You will have to adjust and re-adjust in the country you visit…and then re-adjust again once you are home.

But don’t be afraid! This is a completely normal process of being in a foreign country. Along with these roller coaster emotions, you will also create some life-changing memories and learn so much from being abroad! 


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