By far the hardest thing that I went through in regards to studying abroad was coming home. Before I even went abroad, I was aware of what “reverse culture shock” was, and I knew that I would be affected by it when I came back. I had thought (and had hoped) that by being simply being aware of it I would be prepared for when it actually happened. I was wrong.
While culture shock is the difficulties one goes through when they move to a new country/culture, reverse culture shock is the difficulties you go through when moving back home after spending a significant amount of time in a different culture or away from home. It is when you find out how much you had really adjusted to life abroad. Most importantly, though, it is when you find out that life back home after studying abroad is not what you thought it would be.
When you go abroad you will often think that life will be exactly the same when you come back as when you left. This will simply never be the case. When I got back after my study abroad experience, I was ready to reconnect with my friend groups and get all of those relationships back to normal, but I found myself feeling isolated and alone. When meeting back up with my friends, everything felt just the slightest bit off. We did not immediately click like we used to, and combined with the fact that all of the new friends that I made in London were now a ten-hour plane ride and six-hour time difference away, I had never felt more lonely.
The only way I was finally able to get out of that state was by acknowledging a few facts. The first and foremost was that I had to make peace with the fact that my relationships were never going to be the same. My friends and I just had wildly different experiences over the past four months and thinking that everything was going to be the same afterwards was setting myself up for disappointment. This does not mean that I was going to be more distant from my friends after coming back, it just meant that things would be different. It was only after I fully embraced this fact did things start to get better. By accepting that things were going to be different some of my relationships ended up being stronger than they were before I studied, while I accepted that some others would not be quite as close as they were.
Accepting that I was the one who had changed the most helped me navigate getting back in touch with those friends who I had trouble connecting with after coming back.
The other thing I had to acknowledge (which was pointed out by my brother who had also studied abroad) was accepting the fact that the person who had changed the most was me. Studying abroad had been an incredible experience and had many profound effects on me, most of which would be more than someone would go through just during a semester of school. Accepting that I was the one who had changed the most helped me navigate getting back in touch with those friends who I had trouble connecting with after coming back.
Studying abroad was the most amazing thing I have done while being at UT, but coming back home from such an amazing experience has its difficulties. The path back to normalcy can be aided by simply acknowledging that life goes on back home while you are abroad and that you will have probably changed immensely while you were abroad. Check out experiences other peer advisors have had dealing with their own reverse culture shock.
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