Re-Entry and Cultural Adjustment



Similar to the cultural adjustment pattern when arriving in a foreign country, you may experience stages of cultural adjustment when returning home.
Reentry or Reverse Culture Shock – Upon returning home, you will be faced with integrating your abroad experience with life in the United States. You might feel disoriented, out of place, or changed by your experience in a way that makes relating to family and friends difficult.
Remember the phases of culture shock, as you may experience similar stages when you return home:

Euphoria (Honeymoon Phase)

The first few hours, days, or weeks abroad are often characterized by the excitement of sensory overload. Both adrenaline and expectations are running high, and everything seems new and intriguing.

Irritability and Hostility

Once the initial “honeymoon” phase subsides, dissonances between home and host cultures begin to seem more pronounced, and a sense of alienation can set in. Curiosity and enthusiasm about-face, transforming into frustration, insecurity, negativity toward local culture, glorification of home culture, exaggerated responses to minor problems, withdrawal and/or depression.

Gradual Adjustment

With time, you’ll begin to orient yourself to a different set of cultural practices and feel increasingly comfortable and confident in your new surroundings. Your sense of humor, which may have been lying dormant for a while, will reemerge.

Like the “honeymoon” phase, where excitement upon seeing friends and family, familiar food and favorite hang-outs is the overriding emotion, this period can be followed by frustration, disorientation and depression, known as “reverse culture shock.” This can take on many forms and differs in length and intensity among individuals. There aren’t universal symptoms that everyone shares, yet some common ones include:

  • a sense of no longer belonging to your home culture
  • frustration of adjusting to a different pace of life in America
  • a sense that friends, family, or colleagues are not interested in discussing your experience
  • friends made abroad are missed as well as the culture and way of life in the host country.

There are ways to prepare for re-entry before returning home. While away, keep up on what’s going on with friends and family and try to keep track of local and national news so you do not feel totally lost when you get back home.Recognize that you will develop at a personal level. People at home are growing and changing, too. Think about what you want to do when you get back and try to have a plan for your return. Resist the tendency to think that your friends and family have not done anything while you were away. Plan your finances for your return. How will you pay for school, rent, gas, and food? Do you need to apply for student loans or other financial support?

It may take some time to feel at home again. Use patience to ease the transition.

  • Keep your cultural sensitivity. Observe American culture the same way you observed the foreign culture. Consider what you like about America and what you want to keep from the culture you experienced abroad.
  • Stay positive and active. There will be frustrations and disappointments but work through it with the same enthusiasm that you brought to your overseas experience.
  • Friends and family may have a difficult time understanding your re-adjustment difficulties. Try to explain that it is a normal phase in any traveler’s journey.
  • If you find re-entry particularly traumatic, seek support from UA’s Counseling Center.