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 Education Abroad Office can put you in contact with international students.
- We are always looking for education abroad alumni to serve as on-call speakers about studying abroad. Your fresh, first-hand knowledge is invaluable to prospective students.
- Participate in cultural events on campus to add international flavor to life at home.
- Get together occasionally with other students who have studied abroad.
- Often students develop camaraderie with others who have shared similar experiences.
- Start a foreign language conversation group, or join one that's already organized on campus.
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 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.
- 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.
How to Stay Engaged
One of the best ways to bridge your experiences abroad with your return to life at home is to stay engaged and find ways to incorporate the things you learned abroad into your life here at home. Incorporating your new knowledge and experience into your academic pursuits, professional career, and connections on campus can help you feel like you've brought a little bit of your life abroad back home to UNL.
- Get involved with groups on campus that promote international involvement such as the E.N. Thompson Learning Community.
- If you live on campus, ask about rooming with an international student studying at UNL through Campus Housing.
- Incorporate your experiences abroad into your degree through undergraduate research.
- Don't forget to add your international experience to your resume. Make an appointment with Career Services at UNL to talk about how to best describe your time abroad to future employers.
Material on this page taken from U. Illinois "Adjusting to Life Back Home Page"