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“I can’t say why it was hard to adjust, but it was. I sat in my bedroom for three weeks doing nothing but looking at pictures of my time overseas. I couldn’t put my finger on why. I had eaten couscous in Morocco and dipped my foot in the North Sea! It makes you question things again”
As you prepare for your friend or family member’s return, you may think that person’s experience has just ended. To the contrary, another phase of the learning and adjustment cycle has begun. Re-entry, the process of readjustment to the home culture, in some cases can be more difficult than the adjustment to life in a foreign country. When participants travel abroad, they are generally prepared for life to be considerably different. However, they often expect upon return to slide effortlessly back into their home culture. Yet that culture may prove in many ways to be an unfamiliar culture because they are viewing it through such different eyes. As this adjustment is often unexpected, it is frequently more difficult than the adjustment to the foreign culture. It has been said that, whereas culture shock is the expected confrontation with the unfamiliar, reverse culture shock is the unexpected confrontation with the familiar.
In addition, during the period abroad participants sometimes become accustomed to a high level of activity or stimulation that their home and campus may not be able to match at first glance. As a result, they may feel restless or depressed after their return—a more intense and prolonged version of the letdown we might all experience upon returning to work after an active and invigorating vacation.
Re-entry is a unique experience for every person. Most people experience it, but its intensity and how it is reflected in the individual varies greatly.