Students return from study abroad, experience reverse culture shock
Published: Tuesday, February 19, 2013
Updated: Monday, April 22, 2013 21:04
For junior Chelsea Cox, the return to American culture from studying abroad was jarring and she said she feels as if she is experiencing reverse culture shock. After spending winter session in Peru and living with other students in the Amazon rainforest, Cox grew accustomed to a more minimalist lifestyle. She said being back in America has made her sensitive to materialism and consumerism.
She said in this country it seems that people are too distracted by possessions and obligations to form connections with other people.
“I loved the culture so much in Peru that my feelings don’t fit my old beliefs anymore,” Cox said. “This is my home, but it doesn’t make sense.”
Studying abroad gives students the opportunity to live and experience another culture for an extended period of time, but returning home can be challenging for some students like Cox as they can experience anything from minor cultural differences to reverse culture shock.
“Reverse culture shock is a physical and mental manifestation of a negative response to your own culture,” said Peter Rees, geography and Latin American studies professor and program director for various study abroad trips including those to Copenhagen and Argentina.
Rees said though he and his students have not experienced reverse culture shock, he is aware it is a potential issue that can manifest as depression, uncertainty or anxiety, but individual reactions vary, according to the website.
Junior Mary Jean Rainsford, who studied in London during winter session, also noticed cultural differences upon her return. Rainsford said museums, plays and excursions to historical sites are more accessible and cheaper in London compared to the United States.
“When I woke up, if I felt like going to a show, I could buy a ticket that day,” Rainsford said. “At home my family plans trips to Broadway months in advance.”
But since her return, Rainsford said going back to school and spending time with friends has helped her readapt to American culture.
Cox alternatively said returning to school made the adjustment more difficult. If she could have spent more time with family in between coming back from Peru and starting classes, it would have helped, she said.
Yet, the cultural differences did not shorten Cox’s trip as Rees said culture shock can result in a student returning home from a study abroad earlier than planned. For most students, the adjustment period following studying abroad is typically fine, he said.
“Students often express fond memories and nostalgia at the end of the semester,” Rees said.
While students experience varying degrees of reverse culture shock, university officials acknowledge it can be an issue. On the re-entry portion of their website, the Institute for Global Studies describes reverse culture shock and lists coping resources.
“If a student had trouble readjusting, we would recommend them to the student counseling center,” said Lisa Chieffo, associate director of study abroad at the Institute for Global Studies.
In the past, university officials attempted a re-entry program, but it ended after a lack of student interest suggested there wasn’t a need, Chieffo said.
Chieffo said other members of the trip and the program’s director are good resources as well as the Study Abroad Ambassador organization for students struggling with reverse culture shock. Talking with people that can relate to the experience can be therapeutic and help ease feelings of isolation, she said. It can also help students eliminate any guilt they feel for having trouble adjusting to their own culture, she said.
“Study abroad is meant to inspire comparison between where you go and your own culture,” Rees said. “Talking about issues is important.”