Returning home from an exchange program always comes with some challenges, like reverse culture shock and missing host communities. Host families often go through a similar transition and may feel a sense of loss as their students depart. We understand that coping with the distress caused by this pandemic and the abrupt end to our 2020 programs has made these readjustments even more difficult for students, new alumni, and host families. For more information about how we are adapting the existing content and delivery of our orientations to help students and host families manage stress, disappointment, and continued uncertainty, please visit our COVID-19 page.
And, you can still stay connected with the AFS community and Explore the World while social distancing. We’ll get through this, together.
The Ups and Downs of Coming Home
You’ve most likely grown and changed a lot during your time abroad, no matter how long you were away. Studying abroad is a transformative experience! As you adjust back to life in the U.S., you may experience any or all of the phases below:
The Honeymoon Phase:
Positive feelings and excitement about being back in a familiar place. This can include eating favorite foods, seeing friends and family, and sleeping in your own bed. You may feel a strong appreciation for and awareness of things that you took for granted before your exchange.
The Reverse Culture Shock Phase:
Often associated with feelings of frustration and loneliness. This can include feeling like a stranger in a place that used to be familiar or becoming easily irritated by those around you. You may even feel homesick for your host country. Your friends and family might not be interested in hearing about your experience anymore and you may feel like you have no outlet for these emotions.
The Recovery Phase:
Feelings of surprise, frustration, and anger fade and occur less frequently; new and old routines begin to feel familiar and you begin to establish a rhythm to your life.
The Readjustment Phase:
You have a balanced perspective of life in the U.S. and life in your host country. You may find that your values and behaviors have shifted slightly as a result of your exchange, but you will have reestablished relationships with a circle of people with whom you feel comfortable.
Rising Above Reverse Culture Shock
Dealing with reverse culture shock is a challenging part of readjusting to life back at home. Here are a few tips to help you rise above reverse culture shock.
Stay busy and active. Pick up old hobbies or pursue new ones that you picked up while abroad. Continue to learn about your host country and keep in contact with your host family. Remain involved with AFS to help you feel connected with your experience!
Find ways to express what you’re going through in a creative way. Keep a blog, write a private journal, or take up painting or photography. The act of creating something can be therapeutic and constructive.
You may find that some people ask you about your experiences abroad but then do not listen to your answer! Compose three sentences that adequately sum up your experience to act as a gauge. A quick summary will satisfy those who are just asking to be polite. Those who are still interested after your first three sentences will ask you for more.