Surviving Reverse Culture Shock

Rustic Life Ambassador Cailey Snabel just returned from spending a semester abroad in France through a university exchange program. Here she shares a bit about her experience of reverse culture shock with the Rustic Life community, in the hopes of helping anyone who plans to spend an extended period of time abroad on Gap Year or study abroad programs after high school.

Everyone knows what culture shock is, and we go overseas almost expecting it, preparing for it. People tell us “don’t worry”, “it’s normal to feel this way”, and “you’ll adjust in no time”.  We’re prepared to face culture shock, but we don’t often talk about its twin: reverse culture shock. 

Reverse culture shock is just like culture shock – an often difficult period of adjustment to a culture – but instead of adjusting to a new culture you are adjusting to your home country’s culture. It is even more disorienting to return home and realise that you feel like a foreigner in your own country. You might find yourself spiralling into a couple of existential crises about what you’re doing with your life or thinking resentfully the bakeries here are nothing like the ones in France, and don’t even get me started on public transport.  

For me it went something like this: complete euphoria when I stepped off the plane in Brisbane, a few days of going oh my gosh everyone’s accents, Kmart! Coles! People who know what Maccas is! I, no joke, nearly cried from happiness in the middle of Woolies when I saw those chocolate party cakes everyone makes memes about. 

Then, suddenly, jarringly, my home did not feel like my home anymore. I was hit with intense waves of longing for Rennes, for my international friends, for the metro system, for bakeries, for my life in France. Just like that being home felt like trying on a favourite old dress, to find I had outgrown it. I had changed but everything at home was the same. I was uncomfortable and sad and confused. No one had prepared me for this. No one had told me everything would be okay. So I’m here to tell you that it will be okay. Don’t worry. It is normal to feel this way. You will adjust. 

Here are some things to keep in mind while you’re adjusting. 

It might take time

It took me a good two months of being home to really feel at home. But I did get there eventually, and you will too. Don’t rush yourself, let yourself feel what you need to feel, but don’t let it take over your life. 

Keep in contact with your exchange friends

Having people who are going through the same thing as you is incredibly helpful – have a chat to them about it, ask how they’re going, ask for pictures or virtual tours of their cities (trust me I have gotten some fabulous conversations out of this). 

Find people from your host country

Try joining the exchange society at your uni or go to events that allow you to meet other people from your host country and other returned exchange students. This really helps curb some of the homesickness you might be feeling for your host country. 

Meet up with all your Aussie friends

There is nothing that will make you feel more at home than seeing all your old friends. Make the time to catch up with them. 

Be patient with yourself 

It’s okay if it is hard to adjust, I’ve talked to a lot of returned exchange students and many of us go through the same thing. Travelling and living in different countries can really change us for the better and it might be an adjustment period to fit this new you into your old life. Ultimately these things make our lives richer and our struggles help us grow into better people. 

There are always great things ahead of you

It is tempting to fall into the thinking that your life could never be as amazing as it was overseas but just remember you have an entire life ahead of you. You will visit more awesome countries, meet more wonderful people, fall in love with more cities and cultures. And life in your home country is also pretty great in and of itself. Appreciate little things like the sunset, coffee dates with friends and weird Australian slang. 

Reverse culture shock can be incredibly difficult to deal with, but just like you adjusted to your life overseas you will adjust to your life at home. You will get there, and in the meantime try to enjoy this new perspective on your life and your home! 

~Cailey (Rustic Life Ambassador 2019)