When I studied abroad, everyone warned me about the culture shock that I would inevitably experience. I wouldn’t have any of my friends, family, and even worse, no iced coffee. I was prepared for what I would experience when I was there, but not at all for the culture shock I would experience when I got back to America.
Returning home can be difficult once you grow accustomed to the foreign culture. The home we return to may begin to seem like a foreign country in itself. Why is it so hard to return to a life that you love and had been so comfortable in? Because when you move to a foreign land, you are exposed to new experiences, new cultures, and new people. You learn to see the world in a way you hadn’t before, and discover a world you may not have known even existed. Through travel, people begin to see the world through a new lens, and even though when you may return to a life that is exactly the same as you had left, you have changed. You’ve grown and have an entirely new perception of the world. Many people will find that one of the hardest parts is returning to a schedule, where each day is no longer spontaneous and full of the adventure that travel brings.
I studied abroad in London. Even as an English speaking country, the shock and adjustment of returning home was even greater than it was when I left. I had no trouble communicating with the bartender or reading the map at the tube station, but everything else was a completely different world. When I returned, finding fresh food became a hassle. I had depended on London’s public transportation system so much that I had no idea how to park my car. And, openly drinking vino in the park was strictly prohibited (which was definitely one of the tougher adjustments). Beyond the simple differences, I missed the excitement that came with being abroad. I always felt a sense of wonder of what life would bring next, because when you’re traveling you never know what you’ll discover. When I returned home, I felt like I could always predict what would happen next, and that was my Econ class at 4 p.m.
The hardest adjustment of being back home was not only the lack of thrill and suspense of what I would do or discover tomorrow, but also the European lifestyle I experienced while abroad. I missed the way Europeans worked to live and didn’t live to work, the environmental consciousness that exuded peoples’ lifestyles, the appreciation for good (but less) food, and more specifically to London, the diversity and overhearing ten different languages being spoken on any given day. London didn’t just teach me how to fill my life with spontaneity and adventure, it taught me how to live.
How do we overcome reverse culture shock? The easiest and simplest way is time. As we grow accustomed to our lives, the shock of being home will diminish; however, we can do more than just wait to help ourselves. After a few weeks of watching every movie filmed in London while devouring a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, I decided to incorporate what I had learned in London to my life at home. I brought back the thrill of traveling into my life by exploring new nooks of my own city, from beer gardens to nature trails I had never hiked before. Maybe I couldn’t hop on a plane to Barcelona, but I could still try to do new things and explore the world around me. I changed the way I lived and walked more, ate more fresh food, and began to live in the now and appreciate the world and people around me instead of working only for my future.
When you are experiencing reverse culture shock, incorporate what you loved about traveling into your life, whether it is a certain hobby you acquired while away or simply the joy of having new experiences. Explore your city by taking a cooking class, going for a hike, or just wandering around new terrain. When you find ways to learn, grow, and experience things you have never done before, the amazement and fascination with the world that you felt while traveling will return. There is no reason for every day to feel the same even though you are no longer riding elephants in Thailand or traveling the coast of Spain – you can create extraordinary experiences right where you are! Meet new people, try new food, attend a class and learn something you’ve never done before. The important thing is to keep experiencing the unknown and to fill your life with the very same things that make travel extraordinary, and keep the same open mind that you had while you were away. By keeping the open mind that travel had made a necessity, I’ve met amazing people who have become family, and who have made the thought of my current stabilization a little easier.
It has been difficult, and I will always crave flight and foreign adventure, but by allowing myself to explore and discover parts of my city that I didn’t know existed, I’ve been able to fill my life with the wonder and adventure that I love about travel. Enjoy where you are since you can’t be anywhere else, even though one day you surely will be.