Reverse culture shock

Will it affect you?

This can depend on several factors, such as how similar the UK and your country are; how long it has been since you were last home; and your age.

The feelings and reactions described below are experienced by very many students when they return home after studying in another country.

Family relationships and friends

One student said: Here I have grown used to my privacy and independence. I know when I return home I will lose these. My parents realise what I am going through, but they are not sympathetic.

You might feel that you have changed a lot while you have been away from home. You may now have very different ideas and attitudes compared to when you left home. However, your family and friends may expect you to be just the same as you were when you left, and they may find it difficult to get used to the ‘new you’. For example, perhaps you now think about the roles of men and women in life in a way that is different from what your friends or family think. Perhaps while you were away you enjoyed a lot of freedom in matters of food, how time is organised and leisure activities, and this might be very different from attitudes at home. You might also find that young members of your family do not really remember you or may seem jealous that you have been away. Of course, your family and friends have also changed in the time that you have been away: you may be shocked by how much older your parents seem; and friends may have got married, or had children. All these changes can cause tensions at home and make it more difficult for you to re-adjust quickly.

Work

Another student said: Sometimes people at home don't appreciate your achievements… When I got back I really had problems at work. Nobody wanted to accept the ideas I had learned.

If you are returning to your previous job or employer, you might find that, while you have been away, you have lost touch with important information or developments. At first, you may feel unable to contribute in meetings and conversations. In addition, your colleagues may be jealous or hostile, because you had an opportunity that was denied to them. They may be suspicious of your new skills and knowledge; and may think that the changes in the type of clothes you wear, the way you behave or the way you speak mean that you think you are better than them. Perhaps they will have unrealistic expectations of what you can achieve. In the beginning, you may not have much chance to use the skills that you worked so hard to develop during your study, because of lack of equipment or funding. You may also feel frustrated by different ways of working or procedures.

Economic and political conditions

You may find that your country has experienced economic problems and that it is difficult to buy things that you could find very easily in the UK. You may have to go without some of the conveniences you got used to in the UK. However, if your country's economy has become very successful, you may find that familiar environments are now very different and that there are now new procedures and regulations. A different government may be in power and there may also be new political groups, so you may feel out of touch with politics.

Customs and ideas

When you came to the UK, you probably had to adapt to a number of cultural differences, which in time you came to take for granted. On returning home, you may find that it also takes time before the customs and ideas that were once so familiar to you in your everyday life seem normal again. Many areas could present challenges, such as:

  • preparing and serving food
  • the way people dress
  • the way women and men are expected to behave
  • administrative procedures
  • attitudes to timekeeping
  • tolerance for minority views.

If your children were with you in the UK, it may also be difficult for them to adapt to your home culture. As well as the areas already mentioned, they may be going into a school system which is very different from the UK's and where the teaching methods or subjects studied are unfamiliar. They may also miss their UK friends.

Preparing

Of course, many students going home are looking forward to returning to their family, friends and a familiar way of life. However, as we have discussed, it can be difficult in the beginning to adapt to being back home. This can be made easier by knowing about reverse culture shock; understanding that you might experience it; and accepting that is a common and very normal reaction.

Your institution may offer a special workshop for students who are about to return home, which will look in more detail at the type of issues we have mentioned and help you to develop strategies to deal with reverse culture shock. Ask your international student adviser if your institution provides a workshop like this.

If you are not able to attend a workshop, here are a few ideas to help you prepare for your return home:
  • take addresses of friends and others who you will want to stay in contact after you leave the UK
  • discuss their experiences with students who have already returned home
  • stay in contact with people from your home country, using your own language
  • read newspapers and magazines from home (these are often available on the internet)
  • write to your friends and family at home
  • if you do not already have a job in your home country, visit the careers adviser at your institution; and sign up to job-hunting websites.

Keeping in touch

When you have returned to your own country, it can help to talk to others who have returned home after living in another culture. Your institution might have an Alumni (graduates) Association in your country, which may organise activities and provide services of interest and help to you. Be sure to check before you leave the UK. Even if there is no Alumni Association, the Alumni Office may be able to give you the names of former students who live near your home and who would be willing to meet you. The office of the British Council in your country may also be able to tell you about local alumni, and may have facilities that will enable you to keep in touch with developments in the UK.

In conclusion, bear in mind that when you return to your home country after a long absence, there can be difficulties to begin with and it can take time to re-adapt. Be aware of reverse culture shock, but do not worry about it. Concentrate on enjoying the positive aspects of being back home, such as being with friends and family, and re-discovering your own country.


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