Adjusting to Life Back Home
This section was adapted from Syracuse University's "There and Back Again: How to Make Re-entry a Little Easier."
Coming back home after spending time abroad isn't necessarily the end of your intercultural experience. It does, however, mean that for the time being you're back in the United States and that can require an adjustment. Just as you had to adjust to your host country, the new you - the one you discovered abroad - will have to get to know your family, friends, and home culture all over again. Some people call it "reverse culture shock."
You have just returned from a new, intercultural experience. If you lived with a host family, you may even feel like you had a second family abroad. While both of your families are concerned with your well-being, they probably treat you differently regarding personal responsibilities and independence. Now that you're home, you will probably be expected to slip right back into your accustomed family role as if you had never been away. This might be a bit of a problem in the beginning and communication may be awkward because your family members haven't shared your experience abroad.
Your parents may need some time to get used to the new you; they might struggle with the idea that there are other people whom you now consider family. On the other hand, if you lived in an apartment, you've probably gained a greater sense of independence. The freedom to structure your life as you pleased may be curtailed once you're back home with your family, and you might feel a bit restricted.
- Share your emotions and feelings about re-adjusting to home life with your family so they can better understand what you are feeling.
- Organize your pictures, videos, and other memorabilia as soon as possible. This will make it easier for you to share your overseas activities with your family.
- Be open to questions and comments and try to be patient if, at first, your family doesn't quite understand.
For those who had host families
- Don't forget to stay in contact with your host family.
- A couple of quick short notes a year can mean so much.
- One day, you might get a chance to visit them or they may be able to visit you.
- Allow yourself to assimilate and comfortably merge the influences of both families into your own set of values.
Now that you're back, you may find that you and your friends aren't as close as you were before you went abroad. All of you may have changed a bit, so it's best to slowly ease back into relationships. Be sensitive about dominating the conversation with references to people and places they haven't shared. Some people can interpret constant references to these experiences as bragging.
On the other hand, you may not feel like sharing everything in the beginning, wishing to keep some of your special memories to yourself. Over time, it may be easier to talk about your experience as you put everything into perspective.
- Let your friends know how much you have enjoyed studying abroad, but don't overdo it.
- Don't forget that while you were away, your friends also had new experiences. Have them fill you in on their latest news and happenings.
- Keep up with the friends you made abroad.
- Staying in touch with them can keep the memories of your experience fresh, and writing and sharing information about each other's country is a great way to continue an intercultural exchange.
Universities in the United States vary considerably, and the contrast to those abroad is even greater. Your semester or year abroad has brought you into contact with higher education in another culture. When you return to your home campus, you may see its physical setting and the way it functions in a new light. Academically, your experience abroad may also have provided insight into new or related career goals. These perspectives may lead you in new directions, and you may want to start taking steps to actualize those new goals.
- Talk to your advisor as soon as possible.
- Seek out some student groups on campus.
- The Office of Global Programs can put you in contact with international students.
- The Office of Global Programs is always looking for study abroad alumni to advise students interested in studying abroad. Your fresh, first-hand knowledge is invaluable to prospective students.
- Get together occasionally with other students who have studied abroad.
- Often students develop camaraderie with others who have shared similar experiences.
- The Office of Global Programs can put you in touch with other study abroad participants.
- Start a foreign language conversation group.
Many people take their own country and culture for granted until they travel abroad. Differences in customs and values become increasingly apparent and, out of necessity, you adopt some of these ways to get along. But often adjusting to these new ideas forces you to re-evaluate your old patterns, behavior, and decisions. The awareness of other lifestyles and cultures may give you critical insight into how things are done at home.
While you may happily accept some of the conveniences you missed while living abroad, you may also take a long hard look at practices you once considered as normal. Your home culture, social conditions, and the mass media may no longer be to your liking. It's also possible to occasionally sense that you no longer fit in.
Communication, too, may feel awkward, whether adjusting to speaking English again or simply recognizing that communication styles are different. Your experience abroad taught you that learning how to communicate interculturally can be very exciting, though a bit trying in the beginning. Now you may need to apply that same sensitivity at home.
- Look at everything with fresh eyes.
- It might help you to be less hard on your home culture, and on yourself.
- Remember that your home culture, like the culture that you knew abroad, is a unique culture, rather than a better or worse one.
- Your experiences abroad may have helped you to notice things about your home environment that you previously took for granted.
- Continue to deepen your knowledge of the places you visited.
- Keep up your language skills through courses, foreign films, and periodicals.
- Correspond with friends abroad in each other's languages.
- Initiate conversation with others on campus with interests in international and intercultural affairs.
- Keep up with cultural events in your host country.
- This is a good way to maintain the enthusiasm for the culture you experienced abroad.
Perhaps the most profound difference upon your return will be in yourself. Living abroad gave you opportunities to test and refine your decision-making abilities, organizational skills, motivation, and drive, and these experiences have resulted in remarkable personal growth.
You've probably become accustomed to a high level of activity and anticipation, confronting new places, and constantly meeting new people. Some people feel a bit restless or depressed when they return home, so it's important to find new ways to channel that energy.
- Give your body and mind some time to adjust.
- Take some time to think about how you have changed and how your experiences abroad have contributed to the new you.
- Question yourself about which experiences and people have affected those changes.
- Contemplate how studying abroad has influenced your life goals, especially now that you're home.
- Keep journals of your thoughts and feelings during and after your trips.
- Try small discussion groups with students and the study abroad staff about personal changes they experienced after studying abroad.
- Get involved with the international community in your area to find activities that enable you to explore different cultures.