Coming back into the United States was something I thought would be much easier than it actually was for me. I have studied abroad twice during my time at the University of Florida on two different types of trips. In the summer of 2018, I traveled to Galway, Ireland, as a part of an Irish Studies program, and I spent the spring of 2019 at the University of Sydney studying English on a College of Liberal Arts and Sciences exchange. The Psychology Department at the University of Florida organized a “Psychology of Intercultural Diversity” course to center around the Irish studies curriculum. Through this class, along with my two study abroad experiences, I have learned that culture shock and “reverse culture shock” are important and normal parts of living abroad.
My time spent in Galway was full of close friendships and learning about cultural differences and adjustments. I learned that coming home from time abroad is just as difficult as adapting to a different country. In other words, reverse culture shock is a real problem that people deal with when coming home from a significant amount of time living abroad. Essentially, the course explained the emotions experienced when arriving in a new country are anxiety, excitement, resentment, confusion, and then adjustment. Before a person arrives in a new area, they may feel nervous about the changes. Eventually, they will grow excited to be in a new place. In part of this initial “honeymoon phase” of traveling, people will want to explore what the new place has to offer in terms of cultural differences, including food, architecture, art, activities, etc. After a few days or weeks, they may begin to resent this new culture, claiming that their home culture is superior. Change is difficult for people to experience, and a different way of life can be challenging. For example, during my time in Galway, I, at first, had some trouble with the carefree nature of the people around me. As a tightly-wound individual, this was new for me. This discomfort can bleed into confusion, and ultimately, there will be a sense of cultural adjustment, after some time in that new place and culture. Cultural adjustment involves a person adopting a new set of cultural norms and behaviors in order to comfortably assimilate into a new culture. Ironically, this same process occurs when returning back home. Specifically, when I arrived back in America, I missed the cultural richness of Ireland and the Irish studies programming. I missed the pride that this small Irish city had within their Irish roots.
My second study abroad trip to Australia was different, as it was a legitimate exchange with the University of Sydney. Basically, the distinction here is that I was a student enrolled at the University of Sydney taking classes as if I was a full-time student there. During this trip, I learned the value of studying what I love and grew as a writer and person. I had the ability to study my favorite novel, Dracula, by Bram Stoker, within an intensive Victorian literature seminar, while also improving my poetry craft. The significance of this combination is that I learned Stoker’s personal story, in addition to his literary story, as I wrote my story through poetry. This was not only cathartic; it allowed me to grapple with the adjustment period of culture shock because everyone struggles in a new setting. As well as my integral studies, I immersed myself in a more laid back culture, which challenged my constantly on-the-clock, workaholic personality. Being able to place my anxious-self into a slow-paced environment was extremely interesting to navigate. I also traveled around Australia and finally got to see my favorite animal, the platypus. This was by far the highlight of my experience abroad, as I have been waiting to travel to their native habitats for my entire life. Experiencing two study abroad trips has given me the tools to navigate settling down and succeeding on my own, as well as the ability to combat reverse culture shock upon returning to my home country.
Specifically, in order to minimize the effects of both culture shock when arriving in a new area and reverse culture shock when returning back home, I would recommend taking each day as it comes. The main difference between culture shock and reverse culture shock is the timing and place in which it occurs. The steps of reverse culture shock mirror those of culture shock in that upon returning home, people feel the “honeymoon period,” when everything about being home is perfect. After some time, they will miss the old culture from their travels and begin to resent their home culture, claiming that the other place is better due to customs experiencing that culture while there. Ultimately, the person will adjust back to their home culture. When I allowed myself to follow each anxious thought into the next one about how I did not belong in a foreign culture or that I did not fit in at home anymore, I could not stop the whirlwind of negative thinking. Instead of giving power to my mind to dictate how I felt, I have learned to accept these two processes as a natural part of traveling to and from a new place, so I have given myself the space to learn and grow as an individual. Since returning to the United States, I have learned that study abroad is a life-altering experience that allows you to not only challenge yourself but those around you, as well.
WRITTEN BY Hannah Lamberg University of Miami School of Law
Hannah Lamberg is a recent graduate from the University of Florida where she pursued a Bachelor of Arts in English and a Bachelor of Science in Psychology on a Pre-law track. She was very involved on her campus as a U Matter We Care Ambassador and Public Relations Coordinator within the Dean of Students’ Office, as well as involved on the leadership boards of the English Society and Relay for Life at UF. She is now a student at the University of Miami School of Law. You can most likely find her talking to new people or writing poetry in her free time.