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Returning Home: Dealing with Reverse Culture Shock

You should be aware that you can expect to experience culture shock when going abroad. But what about when you come back home? Some apprentices experience culture shock when they return home as well. They want to tell the whole world about what they have experienced abroad and how fantastic (hopefully!) it was. They realise that most things are exactly as they were when they left and that people are not as interested in the stories they want to tell as they might have expected, and then some fall into a light depression. This is often referred to as a post-holiday depression, similar to what some people go through after returning from a great holiday. It is important to remember that this is a perfectly normal reaction and that you can avoid it if you are aware of it. Think it through carefully beforehand and keep your conclusions in mind all through the experience, and you’ll most likely be fine. 

People who have lived abroad often find that the adjustment to returning home is more difficult than their adjustment to the foreign culture. Why? Well, expectations play a major part. We expect to have some difficulty when we go to a new place, speak a different language and learn the rules of a different culture... But home?... We know that place! 

While you may know your home, you may not realise how much you have changed after being away. In adjusting to life in a new culture, your perceptions, habits and maybe even your values have changed, perhaps without your awareness, to fit in with the cultural context of your host country. At the same time, you’ve probably carried around in your head an idealised mental picture of your home environment. All of a sudden, when you get home, reality just doesn’t measure up to that picture. 

This is a common experience, and the best way to address it is to be aware of the source of your negative feelings. Be assured that in time you will learn to incorporate an appreciation of the positive aspects of each culture at home as well as abroad. Family members and friends are often surprised by the behaviour shown by returnees. They expect the same person who boarded the aeroplane one year ago to return. Especially if they have never been abroad, your parents and friends probably won’t understand the magnitude of the study-abroad experience and the changes it can cause in a person. By the same token, you may have maintained an ideal mental image of your loved ones while abroad, an image that is shattered when you return and see them “warts and all”. 

Remember the different lifestyle you have been leading. If you had a host family, you may have become accustomed not only to their lifestyle, but to their values and norms as well, which are probably different from those of your own family. Whether or not you lived with a host family, you have probably become very independent, structuring your life just as you wished. Now that you’re home again, you will be expected to conform once again to the lifestyle of your family, giving up some of that freedom. As a result, you may now interpret your parents’ involvement in your life as overprotective and restrictive.


Taken from the Europemobility guidebook. It is an idea of CSCS. The project aims at contributing to raise the quantity and quality of learning mobility of young people in Europe. Europemobility is the transfer of the findings and results of the MoVe-IT study, conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers for the European Commission.