Before you depart for your experience abroad, the International staff and the staff of your program will talk with you about culture shock and the emotions you will experience, to a greater or lesser degree, when you spend extensive time in a new culture. As you prepare to return to the United States and the IWU campus, it is important to know that this, too, will require cultural adjustment.
For some students, the return home can be more challenging than the culture shock experienced abroad. Living and studying abroad changes us -- and it is this very widening of our perspectives, the new insight into ourselves and our home culture that we in part seek by studying abroad -- but we often lose sight of that fact that changes are happening at home, too.
There are steps you can take to help you with this transition. One very good online resource is the University of the Pacific's "What's Up With Culture?" program -- particularly the "Welcome Back! Now What?" section.
Reverse Culture Shock
Adjusting from reverse culture shock, like the initial adjustments you went through abroad, progresses through stages. How strongly you will be affected by these cannot be predicted: even those who have studied abroad and returned home before may, after a second experience, find themselves more deeply affected than they were before. As with your journey outward, though, you will emerge from this period of adjustment.
Here are the general stages that categorize cultural readjustment:
Leave-taking and Departure. Cultural readjustment begins before you even leave your host country; it begins as you prepare to depart and say your farewells to the new friends and "family" you made abroad. You may feel anticipation and excitement at the prospect of seeing your family and friends at home, and you may also feel some regret that your experience is coming to an end; together, these may make you feel ambivalent about your move and unsure of how you will feel when you do arrive home. Being very intentional about your leave-taking and creating some sort of closure to you studies abroad can help.
Initial Euphoria. Your first weeks home will likely be exhilarating. You'll experience the thrill of rediscovering your home and reconnecting with those you love. Friends and family will make you the center of attention, meaning there will be many opportunities to talk about your experiences abroad.
Irritability and Hostility. After those first few weeks, as life begins to settle back into its routine for both you and those around you, you will begin to slide into reverse culture shock. You may resist or resent the way that you are expected to fall back into the routines of home, work, and classes at IWU. You may find yourself unfavorably comparing the United States with your host country or feel that people and things at home have changed too much -- or have not changed enough -- in your absence. You may also find yourself feeling "homesick" for your life abroad.
Readjustment and Adaptation. With time, you will adjust to life back home. You will reestablish connections and make new ones; you will find yourself able to see both American and host-country cultures in perspective and to value their differences; and you will begin to integrate your experiences abroad into your life here.