Prep to Move Abroad


Dealing with Reverse Culture Shock as an International Student


Moving abroad, whether for work or study, can be one of the most exciting experiences for a young person. It’s a path that leads to personal growth, new perspectives, and invaluable life skills. According to Campus France reports by 2050, the number of Subsaharan students going abroad, which currently stands at 430,000 could double. However, while studying abroad brings countless opportunities, moving back home can cause reverse culture shock.

We often hear, and even engage in discussions about culture shock but rarely do we get the chance to explore the challenges arising from reverse culture shock. Having lived in China myself for more than 7 years, I can testify that returning home after an extended time living abroad can leave one disoriented, and even in extreme cases, affect their mental health. 

In this article, we’ll explore reverse culture shock, why it affects international students, and how young African professionals can navigate this complex emotional terrain as they prepare to move back home.

Understanding Reverse Culture Shock

man and woman holding rings

Reverse culture shock, also known as re-entry shock or cultural re-adjustment, is a phenomenon experienced by individuals who have lived abroad for an extended period and then return to their home country. It’s characterized by a sense of disorientation, alienation, and even distress as individuals readjust to their native culture and surroundings.

While reverse culture shock may not be as widely discussed as the initial culture shock experienced when studying abroad, it can be equally challenging to deal with. The reason behind this phenomenon lies in the changes and personal growth that international students undergo while living in a foreign country. These changes can manifest in various ways, such as adopting new values, perspectives, and habits that may differ from their home culture.

Why Does Reverse Culture Shock Happen?

  1. Changed Perspectives: Studying abroad often exposes individuals to different worldviews and cultures. They may become more open-minded, accepting, and aware of global issues. Returning home can create a clash between these new perspectives and the traditional values of their home culture.
  2. Personal Growth: Living independently in a foreign country fosters personal growth, self-reliance, and adaptability. These newfound strengths can make it difficult to reintegrate into a familiar environment that may not fully appreciate or recognize these changes.
  3. Loss of Independence: International students often enjoy a newfound sense of freedom while studying abroad. Returning home can mean going back to living with family or under stricter cultural norms, which can feel restricting.
  4. Nostalgia vs. Reality: People tend to idealize their home country when living abroad. However, upon returning, they may find that things have changed, or their expectations don’t align with reality, leading to disappointment.
  5. Relationships: Friendships and relationships built abroad can be deep and meaningful. Eventually having to leave these connections behind can lead to feelings of isolation upon returning home.

How to Deal with Reverse Culture Shock

black muslim man praying on mat
  • Be Mindful and Patient: Recognizing reverse culture shock is the first step in dealing with reverse culture shock. Understand that it’s a natural response to the significant changes you’ve undergone. Be patient with yourself and allow time for readjustment.
  • Stay Connected: Maintain connections with friends and mentors from your time abroad. Sharing experiences and thoughts with those who understand can provide comfort and a sense of belonging.
  • Reflect on Your Growth: Embrace the personal growth and positive changes you’ve experienced abroad. Use these newfound strengths to your advantage when reintegrating into your home culture.
  • Embrace Change: Recognize that both you and your home country have evolved during your time away. Be open to accepting these changes and adapt as necessary.
  • Share Your Experience: Use your unique perspective gained from studying abroad to contribute positively to your home community. Whether through volunteering, teaching, or advocating for change, your experiences can be a valuable asset.

Embracing Change

The first step towards embracing and accepting change is to Seek Support. If you find it challenging to cope with reverse culture shock, consider seeking professional support or joining a support group. Also, Speaking with a counselor or therapist can provide valuable tools for navigating this transitional phase. Redirect your focus towards setting new goals and ambitions in your home country. This can help you regain a sense of purpose and direction.

Use your international experience to become a cultural bridge between your home country and the culture you’ve been exposed to. This can foster greater understanding and unity. It is also important to prioritize self-care to manage stress and anxiety associated with reverse culture shock. This includes maintaining a healthy lifestyle, engaging in activities you enjoy, and seeking relaxation techniques that work for you. Remember to embrace this opportunity to appreciate your home country with a fresh perspective. Allow your experiences abroad to enhance your understanding and love for your native culture.

woman in traditional attire wearing sunglasses

Returning home as an international student can be both exciting and challenging. While reverse culture shock may present obstacles, it’s essential to recognize that this phenomenon is a part of the growth process. By acknowledging your emotions, staying connected with your international experiences, and being open to change, you can successfully navigate the complexities of reverse culture shock. We at PTMA acknowledge that as young African professionals, your experiences abroad can be invaluable in shaping a brighter future for your home country, making the journey well worth the effort.

Asiimwe Isaac is a multilingual copywriter with a global footprint, boasting over five years of experience across Asia, Africa, and Europe. His vast expertise spans tech, travel, lifestyle, education, and more, enabling him to effortlessly demystify topics across different fields. With an innate curiosity for different cultures and a love for learning, his writing resonates across borders, with a captivating perspective rooted in their extensive travel experiences. 

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