Before leaving for the U.S., international students likely receive plenty of advice about moving to another country and dealing with culture shock – the experience of adjusting to a new place when you arrive for the first time.
However, the people at home advising you are less likely to know about reverse culture shock, the feelings you may experience when you return home after an extended time away. As the end of the fall semester rapidly approaches, some international students will soon return home for the winter break. For many, this will be the first time returning to their home country since moving to college.
If you're one of them, you are likely to experience some level of reverse culture shock. This can be confusing, distracting and perhaps more difficult than the initial experience of culture shock.
But don't worry – it is a fairly common experience. For those of you heading back, here are some aspects of reverse culture shock you might encounter when returning from America for the first time.
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1. Extreme jet lag: Often, traveling back to your own time zone can be an even more discombobulating experience than moving out of it in the first place, so be prepared for a week of readjustment.
Sleep when you feel you need it, keep yourself active when you're awake and don't be surprised if your body clock gets a bit out of whack for the first week.
2. Surprise at what's changed – or hasn't: You've moved away, adjusted to an entirely new culture and probably feel you've accomplished a lot since the summer. As a result, it's natural to expect things at home to have moved at the same pace.
In reality, it's unlikely that much will have happened in your absence. The sense that everything is exactly as you left it can be disconcerting, and after the initial excitement at being back in a familiar place, can make being at home again quite an underwhelming experience.
One way to counteract these feelings is to keep yourself busy while at home, so you don't find yourself with nothing to do and too much time on your hands.
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3. Feeling misunderstood: People will naturally be curious about what you've been up to, so expect the same questions from everyone about how you've been finding America and what it's like living in a different country. Bear in mind that some of your friends and family at home have not been to America and therefore will not necessarily understand your stories of college life.
A common part of reverse culture shock is feeling misunderstood by those around you, but this will pass as long as you're patient. In the meantime, be sure to stay in touch with your fellow international students and college friends, so you don't feel entirely isolated while at home.
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4. Homesickness for your U.S. college: Despite the enjoyment of being home, it's quite possible you'll find yourself pining for your college life.
If you're heading back to school in the U.S. in January, this is good news! It means you've settled into your college environment. While it might upset you at the time, ultimately it means you'll be ready to go back to the States for the spring semester.
Culture shock and reverse culture shock are some of the most common – if not particularly enjoyable – aspects of the international student experience, so don't be too upset if you find your mood fluctuates during your time at home.
For those returning to the U.S. in the spring, enjoy your winter break. For those who will not be going back, congratulations on successfully completing your study abroad experience.
Emily Burt, from the United Kingdom, studied at the University of California—Berkeley on an exchange program. She will graduate from the University of East Anglia in 2014 with a bachelor's in American literature and creative writing.