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25 Reasons Re-Entry and Reverse Culture Shock After Being Abroad Are So Hard (and how to make it easier)

Even though I wholeheartedly believe that re-entry from abroad can be a positive and growing experience, it’s not always an easy one. Whether it’s your first or fifth re-entry, you probably know what I mean, and that’s probably why you’re here. Many who haven’t travelled, studied, or worked abroad, may equate your re-entry shock to those “post vacation blues” that we all know so well. Even though there are similarities, it’s important to realize that re-entry shock doesn’t just last a week or two, and grappling with the emotions surrounding it can be extremely difficult.

In order to create a positive re-entry experience for yourself when returning from abroad, you first need to understand why you feel the way you do. You may ask yourself the question of: “Is it normal to feel this way?” After understanding the why, you then must deal with how to cope with reverse culture shock. So, let’s get right to it!

Why is re-entry from abroad so difficult? Here are 25 reasons:

  1. Home is no longer home. In fact, you’re not even sure what “home” is anymore!
  2. You miss the lifestyle, weather, food or circle of friends you had abroad.
  3. You thought re-entry was just those first couple weeks adjusting to jet lag and driving your car again; you had no idea it would hit you on a deeper level several months after arriving home.
  4. Even though you’re physically home, you’re mentally still abroad.
  5. You feel like nobody at home sees the new global you. They only see who you were before going abroad.
  6. You only heard terrible, horrible things about re-entry, and so you expected it to be a terrible, horrible experience.
  7. Your re-entry experience is different from your friends’ or family’s, and you wonder if there’s something wrong with you.
  8. You didn’t feel like you completely fit in with your host culture while abroad, and now you don’t feel like you fit in with your home culture.
  9. You feel frustrated that you’ve been significantly changed by your experiences abroad but can’t articulate exactly how you’ve changed when talking with prospective employers or family and friends.
  10. Re-entry tends to shine a spotlight on your emotional baggage.
  11. You didn’t receive any re-entry support or strategies before going home and now you’re in a sink or swim situation.
  12. You’re going through re-entry alone and you feel isolated.
  13. At its core, re-entry is about our identity.
  14. Like grief, re-entry can wash over you at unexpected times and can be triggered by unexpected things.
  15. Transitions are hard. Plain and simple!
  16. You’re uncomfortable with feeling uncomfortable.
  17. It’s an experience that others can tell you about but you won’t understand it until you’re in the middle of it, so it can be difficult to prepare for.
  18. You may feel like there’s an expectation from friends and family at home that you be the person you were before you left and that frustrates you because you can’t – and don’t want to – go back to being that person.
  19. Being back home seems incredibly boring.
  20. You feel out of sync with friends and family.
  21. You feel like you have to settle or give up what’s important to you in order to have the global life you want.
  22. Whereas going abroad was a largely external experience, re-entry is largely internal. So it’s more difficult to share re-entry with others, especially if they haven’t been through it themselves.
  23. You’ve been through re-entry before and didn’t struggle with it, and so you’re surprised that it’s more difficult this time around.
  24. You no longer feel “special” as the expat, the study abroad student, the volunteer, etc. (See #13!)
  25. Being abroad felt like you were moving forward. Being back home feels like you’re stagnating or even going backwards.

Returning home from abroad is an individual experience. What would you add to this list?

Update: here are some reader additions (from Twitter):

  • People think your time abroad was just a “phase.”/”Good to do it while you’re young.” (@WorldTreeCoach)
  • Nobody really cares about your experience, adventures and development when you’re back home.(@fitaxcultures)
  • #Reentry hits me when I don’t expect it. Knowing about it doesn’t mean I get to skip the messy bits! (@traveladvising)
  • I’d add if you’re the only TCK in yr college class, as a 17-yr-old u might not know how to express needs yet. (@ElizabetAKALisa)
  • They want to care but have no frame of reference for the minutiae of what you experienced. (‏@AngieKozSwims)
  • Oh wow, so many! A biggie for me was people telling me “You’ll have to stop gallivanting around sometime!” (@rcallenwriter
  • I’m 20 years in and somedays I still feel like I am in re-entry. And somedays I feel just fine and ‘normal’. (@CulturalSage)
  • It seems that this is my first assignment that has no known end date #reentry. (@Jsimens)
  • Not wanting to talk about my experience bc it doesn’t translate, and lacking resources around understanding racial inequality in a global sense, & how that relates to it @ home. (@heykatieben)

Here’s the good news about re-entering from abroad!

Before diving right into figuring out how to cope with your reverse culture shock, be sure to give yourself a little grace. You’ve done something incredible! You stepped outside of your comfort zone and you’ve changed for the better. Even though the goal of many is to overcome culture shock, here at Small Planet Studio, we urge you to reframe re-entry so that you can turn it into a  positive, growing experience.

It all starts with getting to know the new global you.

If you can articulate how you’ve changed and what you learned abroad, you’ll be able to share your abroad experiences in a meaningful way in job interviews and with friends and family. This self-knowledge also enables you to create the satisfying and sustainable global life you want.

Here are the two most important questions to ask yourself in re-entry:

  1. Who am I now?
  2. What do I want, now that I’ve had a transformative experience abroad?

These are pretty deep questions, huh? I recommend heading over to Facebook and joining other global adventurers who are exploring those exact questions in our Re-Entry Relaunchers Unite! Facebook group. You’ll meet like-minded people and get much-needed support and inspiration for your Re-Entry Relaunch!

About Author

Hello, I'm Dr. Cate Brubaker! Are you a returnee who has been surprised to find your return "home" harder than going abroad? I created the Re-entry Roadmap workbook just for you. If you work with returnees, I'm here to help you with innovative resources and training that will make it easier to provide meaningful support for your returnees.