By: Contributor On: August 4, 2011 In: Campus Correspondents, Living in the US, Study Abroad Comments: 0

There is no reverse about it, really. It’s just plain old culture shock, and it’s kind of fun. I know that might seem a little strange since it doesn’t sound like a particularly inviting phrase, but there are definitely some good things about it  — in addition to the bad, of course.

Missing Your Study Abroad Friends

Let’s get the bad news out of the way first. You will desperately miss your friends from abroad.

Studying abroad is a rather stressful experience, so people tend to form incredibly deep friendships incredibly fast, and being torn apart from your new close friends is difficult to say the least.

You’ll be using all your inside jokes and thinking of funny things to tell them consistently, and your friends from home are going to be looking at you like you’re crazy when you ask them if they want big brownies when you’re offering them a regular brownie … but maybe that’s just me.

The Cure

Text your study abroad friends to tell them these funny moments that no one else would understand. It’s a great way to keep in touch, and I’m sure they’ve been having similar experiences, too!

Don’t worry if your friends from home don’t understand or don’t think it’s funny. Certain things are just hard to share with people who haven’t experienced the same things as you. You’ll have a whole new set of inside jokes with your friends from home soon enough, so enjoy the old ones while you still can!

Longing for the Country You Left Behind

One of the interesting things that I’ve noticed is that the grass is always greener in the foreign country thousands of miles away.

While I was in Russia, I disliked the general lawlessness that that particular country exudes. It was scary to see absolutely no consequences for people’s actions, but at the same time, that gives everyone there a type of freedom that we don’t have in fully developed countries.

One would think that coming back to the land of liberty, I wouldn’t miss “freedom,” but it’s a type of freedom that a fully developed nation based on puritanical order could never understand.

Granted, I will not miss having to make sure that I always have some bribe money on me just in case a militia officer stops me, but I will admit it was wildly fun to run about the city, climbing trees and having impromptu snowball fights with total strangers.

The Cure

Well, there’s no real cure for this one since it’s both good and bad at the same time. It’s not fun to miss a certain lifestyle, but it’s nice to look back on things that I once disapproved of and actually enjoy now.

Forgetting Local Customs

Culture shock is not all about missing things, though that certainly is a large portion of it. One of the other categories I would call “instincts.”

We are trained to do certain things, and we all have customary habits and standards for politeness, though these things naturally differ from country to country. This lead to some bewildering experiences abroad when you can’t understand why the old woman behind the counter can’t break your 100 ruble (~$3) note.

When you’re abroad, people can understand your confused reactions, since you are a foreigner and might not know any better. However, when you come back to the US, speak perfect American English (maybe with a slight accent after being abroad for so long), and you forget to leave a tip at a restaurant, people think you’re either nuts or just mean because you should know the local norms. Never mind the fact that you haven’t been living with those customs for months and have totally forgotten that America is any different.

The Cure

Just laugh (and occasionally apologize)! People are going to give you funny looks if you go to bow when they extend their hand as my brother did for months after getting back from Japan. But it’s not that big of a deal, and it makes for a good story, which you can then share with your friends abroad!

Before you know it, you’ll be a full-blooded American again, so enjoy the bits of the other culture that are still inside you while you can.


About Julia Byrd: Julia is a George Washington University graduate who studied abroad at St. Petersburg State University in Russia. She double majored in Russian Language and Literature and Environmental Studies. Her interests include yoga, movies, and finding warm places to travel to whenever possible.

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9 years ago

I have a friend who forgot that taxes aren’t included in US prices, and started arguing with the barista at Starbucks about her order total! My main issue with coming home after a semester in Paris was that everything was so big – I’d gotten so used to being on teeny-tiny streets that walking down my four-lane road in DC felt like walking along an interstate highway! I think I made it 30 seconds walking down Massachusetts Avenue before I got scared, turned around, and went back into my apartment.

9 years ago

Having written a book on it: “Sheep Under The Sea”, I can tell you reverse culture shock is something, you never, ever get over. It’s like shell-shock for travellers. Like Robert Frost said, “you can never go home again.”