Reverse Culture Shock

"Just remember: No one will give a sh*t about your stories." These were the words of Mickey, the easy-going, Star Wars­-quoting, English speaking jovial worker at my exchange program in Nagoya, Japan during the orientation for returning home. These words were the end of his advice about facing reverse culture shock, based on his own experiences from studying abroad in America. When he said that, everyone in the room laughed. Once I returned home, however, I quickly found out that reverse culture shock was no laughing matter. And I will tell you now, everyone has a different experience with it, but it can hit you like a slap in the face.

I am here to tell you that you can get through it.

When you return, you become hyper-aware of a lot of things about America. There were a lot of things I had taken for granted here, and it was only once I returned that I was overly-conscious of them. "Am I going to get shot here?" "Why do we dress like that?" "Why is our government approving of that and fighting over that?" Some aspects may have legitimately changed over the 11 months I had been gone, but a large part of it was just actually realizing what I had not before.

Just as Mickey prophesized, there may be some stress closer to home as well.  In my case, many people (friends, family, neighbors, etc.) did not really care to hear about my experiences or stories or want to see the numerous super-amazing pictures I took. Some people looked down on the country I just came back from. Nothing is worse than the questions, "So, glad to be back?" and (with the expectation of a 1-2 sentence reply to cover every single awesome or horrible or neutral thing you experienced) "How was it?"

After being in major urban cities with great public transportation for 11 months, I returned to suburban Indiana without access to a car. What am I supposed to do with all this extra time? Where can I go? How can I eat [insert beloved food from the exchange country]? Who can I find to talk to about my experiences? How can I keep my language skills up? These are things that are normal to worry about upon returning home. You may begin to feel alienated and alone, and recognizing this feeling is important—it can help put you on the path to coping and using this feeling to your advantage.

One of the most important things to do is to not lose touch with the friends you’ve made abroad. I talked a lot with my Japanese friends who had previously studied abroad in America—they understand both cultures, and have also had to deal with reverse culture shock. It also encouraged me to keep up with my Japanese skills, since I was suddenly completely surrounded in English 24/7 with no one else to practice with. When you want to rant, these are the people who are most likely to be willing to listen (or even be interested). It is important not to forget that you are not alone, and will never be alone in this feeling. Also, you probably now have some very interesting insight to our own and exchange countries; maybe not everyone, but some people will want to hear about that.

Frequent international markets to make the food you miss. Volunteer to help foreign residents in your community—you may be able to sympathize with them all too well and be a fabulous resource for them. Write a diary documenting your feelings and experiences—it may come in handy in the future. Find a local group that’s interested in the country you went to and share your knowledge. Do whatever you need to cope with reverse culture shock.  Everyone has a different experience with it, but that doesn’t make it any less real.  Find the coping mechanism that best fits you and I promise, no matter how tough things are at the beginning (or middle, or whenever reverse culture shock slaps you or stabs you or touches you at all), they will get better. Remember, your experiences, whether good or bad, are never meaningless.