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Understanding the Study Abroad Re-entry Experience

Your study abroad experience has become an integral part of who you are. For many students, returning to their home country is as challenging as adjusting to the culture when they first arrived in their host country. But we're here to help.

Discover resources and tips for readjusting to your life back home.

What is Reverse Culture Shock?

Most students go through a bit of culture shock when they land in another country. It is expected and absolutely normal. But, did you know that the same can be said when you go back home?

Whether you’re consciously aware of it or not, you just experienced a major life event living abroad. You adjusted your daily routine to a different way of life. Now that you’re back, things may seem different. It’s a condition referred to as “reverse culture shock.” It can be just as alarming as your first days at your program site.

Here are some more details and tips for going through this process of re-assimilating back to your home country. Overall, you will learn more about yourself, your beliefs, and your goals during this time.

Graph displaying a timeline of reverse culture shock.

Things you may Notice

Much like the adjustments you may have gone through while abroad, you will go through a similar emotional process again. Here are some things that people commonly notice.

Your family and friends may be confused

While you may have shared photos and stories with friends and family while abroad, they did not actually take part in the same experiences first-hand. It may even be hard to put the entire experience into words for them to understand the impact it has made on you.

Similarly, your friends and family may expect you to be the same person you were as before you went abroad. After being immersed in a different culture, it’s likely that your attitude and perspective on certain topics changed. You, your friends, and family may need some time to adjust to each other.

You need some time

Like your experience adjusting to life abroad, it may take time to get used to your life at home as well. Many students are not immediately aware of the ways in which they have changed during their time abroad. Your experiences abroad often reshape your views of your own life and of the world in general.

You may find that upon re-entry, you experience a general feeling of discomfort or shock. These feelings can represent the impact of your experiences. You may have broadened your viewpoint and opened up to new possibilities. You should allow yourself time to adjust and reflect.

You need to catch up on things

While studying abroad, you may have lost touch with social events and activities back home. For example, you may have missed a friend’s wedding or a family reunion which may make you feel left out. It will take time to catch up on what you missed.

You may have missed an election or political campaign. Perhaps while you were abroad, you saw a different point of view on current events. You may have gained new perspectives about world politics or cultural concerns in your own community. Have your opinions changed?

Tips for Adjusting

Overall, it is important to adjust to life back home while holding on to what was learned while abroad. Take what you learned from seeing things from an international standpoint to make your understanding more complete.

Keep in touch

Try to focus on the good and keep an open mind. Stay in touch with your ever-growing support system of friends, professors, and fellow USAC alum.

Create a journal and/or photo memory book

Before your memories fade away, it’s a good idea to start writing down the stories of the most notable moments you had overseas. While you’re at it, gather up all the photos you took and create a photo memory book. Spending the time to focus on capturing the details of what happened doubles as an opportunity to process the experience. You will end up with long-lasting keepsake that you can use to reflect back on your trip.

Sleep it off

And the easiest way to stay healthy and happy is to get enough sleep. Sleep reboots your mind and body, so you are ready for whatever new experience comes your way.

Going Forward

Check with an advisor for received credits

It is important to check with your academic advisor and your home university’s Registrar’s Office to make sure that your credits were transferred correctly from your study abroad university. This simple step can identify mistakes that may have occurred and may save time and aggravation later on in your academic career.

Assess your financial standing, financial aid, and student loans

You must be aware of your financial standing as you return to your home university. Financial aid and loans that are time sensitive may need to be reinitiated or activated at the beginning of the term. Loan organizations may need a statement from your home university affirming your continued enrollment and verifying your registration. If you receive such notification from your loan organization, you should contact the loan association immediately for specific directions.

For more information, login to Gateway and review the Transcript and Grade Reporting Guide in your documents.

Attend another USAC program

Three students standing on a bridge with the mountains in the background in Pau, France.USAC offers more than 50 programs across nearly 25 countries. There is no better way to satisfy the urge to live abroad than to participate in another program.

The numerous programs that USAC offers make it possible for students to continue with a language in a different region of a country or to travel to countries that speak the same language that they do. There is always the opportunity and challenge to learn a new language in a different country. In addition, internships abroad are also a possibility, especially with advanced language skills.

Many programs offer a returning student discount, which decreases tuition costs for certain programs. It’s easy to sign up for another USAC program. Many students find a second or third abroad experience to be particularly appealing due to the fact that they are far more confident and comfortable with traveling and living in a foreign country.

Explore employment abroad

Your study abroad experience may have provoked your curiosity about an international career or job. Consult the career center at your university or search for jobs with an international focus. There are numerous opportunities to work or volunteer in many countries, if that is an area of interest to you. However, you will need to research these options and take the initiative.

Get involved on campus

Students helping out at the USAC tabling event at UNR.

Some universities offer workshops to help you integrate your recent study abroad experience with your continued life and studies. Check with your home university to find out about any services they offer for recent returnees from international programs. Workshops or meetings will not only be helpful from an academic re-entry point of view but will also provide the opportunity to meet other students who have studied abroad, as well as international students.

Sharing with and learning from other study abroad participants is an important part of the re- entry process and can greatly reduce the frustrations that returning participants often experience. If your university does not offer workshops or events for study abroad participants, take the initiative! Arrange meet-ups with other past participants through any clubs or organizations created for study abroad alumni or participate in events sponsored by your on-campus USAC or study abroad office.

  • Most colleges and universities have sessions where past participants can share their experiences with students who are considering attending a study abroad program. This is a great forum to share stories with students who are certain to be interested.
  • Consider taking advanced language courses or joining language clubs to retain and develop any languages learned while abroad. Also, ask about opportunities to practice your language skills with international students.
  • Seek cultural gatherings that take place in your community. You may be surprised at the number of activities sponsored by or related to your study abroad country.
  • Specific clubs or organizations affiliated with study abroad programs or international relations may be active on-campus as well as in your community. Programs that work with community development or outreach are excellent ways to sponsor international awareness and education.

Rate your Study Abroad Experience

Please take a minute to rate your program on Go Overseas, Go Abroad, and/or Study Abroad 101. These are online search directories for study abroad programs and they also allow students to post their own reviews. Your feedback is very useful to future students.

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