Study Abroad

Information for
Alumni and Returnees

Before you left for your Study Abroad Program, you went through orientation and learned about Steven Rhinesmith's Ten Stages of Adjustment (about experiencing culture shock when you were gone). Recall that numbers seven through ten were about your return home: "The challenge here is that the better a student becomes integrated to the ways of a country's culture, the more difficult it may be to re-adapt to the U.S. upon return home. The U.S. just won't look the same way it did before leaving to study abroad; a student may see home with new eyes and may also be more critical of U.S. cultural traditions once thought to be "normal". This is called reverse culture shock. Following is some advice for dealing with reverse culture shock. Some of it was culled from experts, and some of it was shared by study abroad alumni just like you.

Although you were warned, you may not be prepared for the shock you'll have upon return. Many people (not just students) who live abroad experience reverse culture shock upon re-entry or re-patriation. Essentially, that means you've become accustomed to your new culture and unexpectedly assumed some of the characteristics and perspectives of the host country. You've grown in sophistication and maturity while abroad, but now you're expected to be your old self. Here is what Michele (Granada, Spain alumna) had to say:

I really immersed myself in everything and almost forgot I was only there for a couple months. [Spain] became my second home. I did not want to leave. I was completely unprepared for what it was like to get off that plane back in New York. It was strange. I wasn't even excited to see my parents. I felt like my Spanish family had been my family for so long, and I was speaking only Spanish in the house, and it just became very familiar and routine. So it was a smack in the face being put on a plane and heading home. When I got home, I was depressed for months. It would have helped if I could have gone right back to school, but it was winter session and I was home for six weeks. I felt like surrounding myself with people who had been through my exact experience, so I wouldn't have to keep trying to explain why I was so homesick. People just didn't get it. They thought I had gotten too attached over there and it was like "wake up, you're back in America."

Make sure you take time to say goodbye to your new friends before you return. Get photographs with them, have a meal together and thank them for becoming part of your life. Obtain their email addresses, home addresses and phone numbers. Also be sure to get contact information for your fellow study abroad participants before you leave.

Keep a journal of your experiences while you are away and continue to journal after you return. Before you leave your host country to return home, consider using your journal to reflect on your experiences. What do you miss most about the U.S.? What do you worry about when considering going home? Compare the U.S. with your host country. What do you love and dislike about each? Do you see a pattern? Reflecting on the program is one dramatic way to process the experience to grow intellectually and make the best use of the opportunity. The changes in your cultural perspective are common. You've developed independence, self-esteem, global awareness, adaptability, and confidence. Think of other competencies that you have acquired.

When you get home you will want to share everything about your trip and won't be prepared for the inability to express yourself. You've been through a life-changing experience, and you'll want to tell everyone about it. But two things will happen. First, no one will be as interested to hear about every detail as you will be to tell about them! (Particularly if it takes more than one night - and it will!) Second, even if given the chance, you will just not be able to explain the experience with someone who hasn't shared it. Here is what Ursula shared about her return from London:

I've learned from my many trips since, that you cannot share the whole experience with someone who wasn't there. Trying to will just frustrate you and bore the listener. Just like what happens when someone pulls out vacation photos, but on a larger scale.

I learned that what works best (for me) is to cull one or two stories from the trip to tell. Mine was "My brush with Death." I was in a pub full of hooligans watching World-cup soccer and cheered when somebody scored. It was Germany that scored against England. And the room was not amused. Makes a good story. Also I go for framing my best photo(s), so if someone asks, I can talk about it. But I don't feel I'm pushing it.

Your family, especially your parents, may be excited and happy with the new you because you have proven yourself responsible while you were away. But friends' reactions may be more negative. They may be annoyed with constant references to your trip, or they may begin to feel threatened by your cosmopolitan outlook. But be sensitive to your family and friends. They, too, will want to share their experiences at home while you were away. Also keep in mind that unless they've experienced reverse culture shock themselves, they won't understand your frustration. They'll expect you to be exactly the same and snap out of your funk right away. You'll feel pressure to conform.

Keep in mind that once you get back it will be just as easy to criticize what is "wrong" with the United States as it was to criticize "foreigners" before you left. You've become more sophisticated with the ability to see both cultures from a lofty perspective. Beware of judging too harshly or impulsively.

You may be depressed. If necessary you can contact your fellow study abroad alumni or your faculty advisor to discuss the situation. If it is very bad or persists, you should speak to a counselor on campus or at home.

Finally, remember that like many other episodes in your life, this feeling will pass. As you re-join activities with friends and family and become re-acclimated you will remember your study abroad experience fondly. Keep the experience in perspective and remember to use the knowledge gained to your advantage by continuing to adopt a global outlook in all aspects of your life.

After all the stimulation of new experiences on a daily basis, you might find yourself bored when you return. Don't be. Find something to do with your new experiences. Here are a few suggestions on how to alleviate reverse culture shock:

  • Contact the Institute for Global Studies and let them know of your willingness to share your stories and advice. The next group of study abroad participants would love to hear stories of study abroad alumni during interest meetings. Contact a faculty director to see if you might be needed to speak at an interest meeting.
  • Another alternative is to become a Study Abroad Ambassador and get involved in recruitment activities with other alumni. If this interests you, contact Lukman Arsalan at 831-4065 (, or complete the on-line application form.
  • Work in the Institute for Global Studies office. Students are hired to assist the staff and answer questions about study abroad programs. Contact Ruthie Toole at 831-2852 ( for more information.
  • If you acquired fluency in a second language, find opportunities to use your skill at home. You can volunteer to work as a tutor for the English Language Institute, or join the language club of your choice on campus.
  • Join the Cosmopolitan Club. Click here for more information:
  • To keep in touch with the culture, correspond with your homestay family if you had one. If living with someone from that country appeals to you and you live off campus, you can put an ad in the UD classifieds.
  • To keep current on events in your study abroad country, the University of Delaware's library has a wide variety of foreign newspapers and periodicals. See: ( or the IGS web site.
  • If your goal is to return to the host country, there are a few possibilities you can try. Using search engines with the terms 'working visa' or 'student visa' and the country of interest will bring up some good websites, but be careful. Make sure you apply through an embassy or reputable agency and talk to people you know who have used the services before. Other agencies to try include the U.S. Peace Corps (; BUNAC ( for working in Britain, (, and ( Contact the U.S. State Department: ( for further advice on working abroad.
  • You may find that you want to use your new perspective vocationally. If changing your major is not an option, use the new competencies you gained. You probably learned adaptability, independence, global knowledge and perspectives, new language fluency, problem solving skills, and more. Try to find volunteer experiences that will be useful after you graduate. Don't forget that those competencies will be useful even here on campus if you apply them.
  • Proud of your experiences? Show it off by wearing a Study Abroad Sash at Graduation. For more information, read this article.
  • Join the International Culture Club to interact with students from other countries.

For more information on reverse culture shock, try the following resources:

The following resources are available in Morris Library (call numbers are in parentheses):

Adler, N. (1981) Re-entry: Managing cross-cultural transitions. Group and Organization Studies, 6, 341-356 (HM134.G72)

Brabant, S., Palmer, C. E. & Gramling, R. (1990) Returning home: An empirical investigation of cross-cultural reentry. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 14, 387-404 (GN496.I15)

Denny, M. (1987) Going Home: A workbook for reentry and professional integration. Washington DC: NAFSA: Association of International Educators (LA203.N33)

Kohls, L. Robert. Survival Kit for Overseas Living. Yarmouth, Maine: Intercultural Press, 1996 (E184.2.K64)

Martin, J.N. (1986) Communication in the Intercultural re-entry: Student sojourners' perspectives of change in re-entry relationships. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 10, 1-22 (GN496. I15)

Raschio, Richard A. (1987, March) "College Students' Perceptions of reverse Culture Shock and Reentry Adjustments". Journal of College Student Personnel, 28:156-162 (LB1027.5.A1.J645)

Storti, Craig. The Art of Crossing Cultures. Yarmouth Maine: Intercultural Press, 1990 (GN517.S76)

Sussman, N. M. (1986) Reentry research and training: methods and implications. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 10, 235-254 (GN496.I15)

Uehara, A. (1986) The nature of American student re-entry adjustment and perceptions of the sojourn experience. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 10, 415-438 (GN496. I15)


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Institute for Global Studies

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