Congratulations! You have successfully completed your year abroad!
Even with the support from fellow AYFers and program staff, it probably wasn’t always easy. You can be proud of yourself for simply having done it and weathered some rougher times. But one of the hardest aspects of your year abroad will be when it ends.
If you are reading this after you’ve returned home, you surely understand what this means – for a lot of people it’s similar to when they first arrived in Freiburg and experienced “culture shock”: although there was a feeling of excitement and adventure, the strain of being in a new culture may have also taken a toll on you.
What catches most people off-guard is when this feeling returns after coming home – this is known as “reverse culture shock.” Although things around you may have changed (perhaps a younger sibling will be soon going to college or there’s a new building on campus), you are sure to have changed more: your political perspectives or attitudes may have been affected by your time in a different culture or maybe you feel you have “outgrown” your friends. These feelings are completely normal and often are expressed in symptoms similar to depression: changes in eating or exercising habits, irritability or the feeling that “people just don’t get it.”
The important thing to remember is that just like culture shock, reverse culture shock will slowly go away as you readjust to your new normal at home. Everyone deals with this readjustment phase differently: some people prefer to talk about their experiences while others prefer to be left alone. Whatever the feelings or your strategies for dealing with them, it is important to remember that they are normal and part of a cross-cultural experience. If these feelings continue to manifest themselves long after returning home, it might be time to search out professional help.
Below you’ll find some strategies returned study abroad students found helpful for the readjustment following their Academic Year in Freiburg:
- Give some thought to the changes you underwent while abroad: are you starting to see things at home with a new perspective?
- Share your experiences with international students and other returned study abroad students.
- Participate in events at your university for returned study abroad or international students.
- Be a good listener for your friends and family: they might not understand all the experiences you’ve had over the past year, but you can try to understand their lives.
- Seek out what you loved about Freiburg (and traveling in general!) at home: explore different foods, festivals and meet new and exciting people!
- Don’t compare your time in Freiburg to your time in the United States: don’t be too harsh on either environment; they both have a lot to offer.
- Be open to reflection: you can’t talk about an experience unless you’ve thought about it.
Finally, don’t let your time abroad stay abroad. The world is a very big place and there are things you can always continue to explore no matter how long you’ve lived somewhere! For more tips on dealing with reverse culture shock, visit your local study abroad office.