Reverse culture shock, or re-entry shock, affects thousands of returning study abroad students every year. Symptoms include lacking the ability to communicate the significance of time spent abroad, being critical of values, customs, and beliefs that weren’t bothersome before studying abroad, as well as simply missing the lifestyle of a foreign country — full of adventure and new experiences.
“I felt depressed for a couple of weeks when I got back,” said Leslie Gustafson, a senior from Overland Park who studied in Costa Rica for two months this summer. “I didn’t have a job to come back to, so I missed all of the things I had done in Costa Rica, and not really having anything to do for a while made it worse.”
Jen Weghorst, the program director for Spain and Latin America in the Office of Study Abroad, has led re-entry sessions at the University of Kansas for two years through the Office of Study Abroad. However, this year she isn’t sure if one will be offered because of the lack of attendance at these non-mandatory meetings in the past.
She said this would simply be due to the busy schedules that students have when they get back, but the importance of learning how to deal with these feelings cannot be ignored.
One issue students encounter is the lifestyles they come across abroad and differences in outlooks on life compared to what they’re used to at home.
“People in Europe just seem more apt to dealing with hard circumstances, or not ideal situations,” said Paul Tackett, a senior from Wamego who spent four months in Wales, United Kingdom, this past spring. “Whereas coming back to America, if something doesn’t happen according to plan, people get upset quickly and don’t really go with the flow as much.”
Weghorst described these recurring sentiments.
“You can see home in a more critical light,” she said. “Meaning, you more closely examine things that you might have taken for granted before you left whether they be social, cultural or political aspects of life.”
In 2007-2008, 262,400 students studied abroad, according to the latest numbers published by the U.S. Department of Education and the Institute of Educational Sciences. For most of these students the experience changed their lives and had an immensely positive effect on them, but one of the biggest transitions students face is conveying their stories of adventures and the significance of their travels to others.
Weghorst recommends that returning students set up Facebook groups or general discussion groups among other students who have traveled abroad either with them or at other times. This allows students to compare notes on their transitional progress and experiences, and especially on the things they miss.
Educating people on how to transition back into their own social networks when they return has helped past students, and the Office of Study Abroad includes this in pre-departure mandatory meetings with students.
“When you’re talking with friends back home, all they’re doing is listening and asking questions,” said Brian Kelly, a senior from St. Louis who studied abroad in Rome for six months last fall. “But when you talk to somebody who’s done the same thing, you can relate with them and it’s more like a discussion.”
The Office of Study Abroad recommends that students dealing with severe reverse culture shock take advantage of counseling services offered at the Counseling and Psychological Services located in Watkins Health Center.
( By Nicolas Roesler- The University Daily Kansan)