The Stages of Reverse Culture Shock
While the stages of culture shock might seem complicated -- it turns out that reverse culture shock is even more of an emotional rollercoaster! Let’s break down the stages so you can understand what you might feel (or are currently feeling, if you just returned home!).
Phase #1: Returning Home
In the final days of studying abroad, you’ll probably feel excited and a bit nervous. After a few weeks or months abroad, you might wonder what has changed -- and how much it has changed. What have your friends been up to? How is your family? Even if you’ve kept in touch while studying abroad, you might not know everything that has happened.
You board the plane home, arrive, catch up on sleep… and then what?
Phase #2: The Honeymoon
Just like when experiencing culture shock, you might find that you experience a ‘honeymoon’ phase when you return from studying abroad. The comforts of home, the joy of seeing family and friends, the ability to eat your favorite foods and watch your favorite shows, and the conveniences of the culture you grew up in will all feel great. It may seem like this phase will last forever (and we wish it could!).
For many study abroad students though, there are more emotional phases to experience.
Phase #3: Confusing Frustration
After a few days or weeks, you might find yourself confused and/or frustrated by things that never bothered you before.
You might be frustrated by public transportation options at home after a semester of easily hopping on trains and buses to get around. You might wonder why people line up this way instead of lining up that way like they did back when you were studying abroad. You might suddenly realize that some of those comforts and conveniences aren’t as comfortable or convenient as they were before -- because you’ve seen how the world works somewhere else, and maybe they’ve got a better way of doing things!
Phase #4: Bittersweet Nostalgia
Phase 3 almost always triggers Phase 4, which we’re calling bittersweet nostalgia. It’s that feeling when you deeply miss your study abroad experience and your host country. You’ll probably miss your new study abroad friends, and maybe your host family too if you stayed with one.
You might find that you cycle through phases 3 and 4 a few times in the first few months after returning home from study abroad. During this time, you’re slowly reconciling your experiences abroad with your life back home (you may even realize that “home” is a much more fluid concept than you thought now that you’ve had more than one).
Stage #5: Acceptance & Engagement
At some point, you’ll eventually re-integrate with life at home. You might forget the specific details of something you experienced abroad that caused you frustration or confusion. You might fall out of touch with study abroad friends. These are an unfortunate reality of passing time, and it’s okay to feel a bit sad about them.
You’ll also discover that during this time, you come to accept everything you used to know so well about home. You’ll reconnect with friends and family from home, get re-engaged with your favorite activities, and head back to campus ready to dive back into your college experience. The pangs of missing your study abroad experience will become fewer and farther between.
Stage #6: Mastery
By stage 6, the final stage, you’re successfully through the worst parts of reverse culture shock. Phew!
This stage is where you can look back fondly on your study abroad experience, and also live in the moment back home. You may have wanderlust and already started planning your next trip -- but you’re also happy to be home. The highs and lows of the reverse culture shock rollercoaster are much less dramatic. Congratulations on making it through this complicated, emotional journey!