Lauren Boeckermann is a student at the University of South Carolina. She studied abroad with the Global and Public Health program at Manipal University in 2015 through the Alliance for Global Education, an IFSA-Butler in India partner.
As my two-year anniversary of when I left for India is soon approaching, I have started to reflect not only on my time abroad but how I adapted my lifestyle since returning home. At the beginning on my sophomore year at the University of South Carolina, I decided (and had to thoroughly convince my parents) that I was going to study Global and Public Health in Manipal, India through the Alliance for Global Education.
On January 18th, 2015, I waved a tearful goodbye to my home and loved ones and set off to my first destination of Newark, New Jersey. This would be the place I had to say farewell to the comforts of American living before my direct flight to Mumbai, India took off. Fleeting moments of panic would wash over me as I ate my last slice of pizza, charged my phone without the need for an adaptor, and wore my classic t-shirt and leggings. I began journaling, trying to remind myself why I choose India, about the incredible people I was about to meet, and about the journey of a lifetime I was about to embark on.
I knew the culture shock waiting for me on the other end of this 16-hour flight was going to challenge me, which it definitely did. But in that moment, and even throughout the semester, I could have never predicted the discomfort I felt upon re-entering the United States in the same airport four months later.
This phenomenon of reverse culture shock is, arguably, more difficult to overcome than the adjustments you make in your host country. Places you once knew as comfortable and familiar such as your home, campus, or even favorite coffee shop, suddenly feel uneasy and distant. During your time abroad, you adjusted your way of life and perceptions of the unknown. All the while, your friends, parents, and mentors seemingly remained static.
Although it is frustrating for a time, there are ways to manage the reverse culture shock that occurs upon your re-entry into the United States.
The four solutions offered below are ways I found to make the most of my time back on the University of South Carolina’s campus, by building on my experiences abroad.
1. Plug Yourself into Campus Life Again
Since many people study abroad in their sophomore or junior year, chances are you were involved in several on-campus organisations before you left: Greek life, intramurals, and volunteering. I encourage you to dive right back into these clubs if they are still of interest to you. Or find ones to meet your new passions! You can even apply for leadership roles in order to build on the leadership skills you developed during your time in your host country.
2. Volunteer in Your Study Abroad Office
After studying abroad, your view of life broadens and includes a more global approach. I didn’t want to lose touch with this global perspective, so I decided to involve myself in the Study Abroad Office. I participate in panels answering questions about my experiences and work with orientations to prepare students before their departure. This has not only connected me to people who also studied in India, but I have also found myself learning from those who studied all over the world and engaging in discussion with our international students.
3. Keep in Touch with the Friends You Made Abroad
There was nothing more bittersweet than catching up with friends from home and campus after a four-month period of being apart. On one hand, you couldn’t wait to tell them of the time you rode an 18-hour train from Jaisalmer to Delhi or strolled through the French-inspired streets of Pondicherry; however, there were pieces of the stories you just couldn’t explain or replicate such as the smell of incense in the temples or the noises you heard as you rode in auto-rickshaws. I found comfort in being able to relieve these tales with my friends I made in the program. Luckily, we live in an age of technology and social media that allows for global relationships to prosper. My advice to you would be to use these as a great resource for reconnection and story-telling.
4. Celebrate the Holidays of your Host Country
Days will go by without you consciously thinking about your time abroad. Then, suddenly, you realize that an important holiday is being celebrated in your host country and a wave of nostalgia will overcome you. Since India is a country that celebrates festivals frequently, there are many days on my newsfeed that I realize I am missing a celebration in the crowded streets and temples. I have learned to use these opportunities as an excuse to order Indian take-out and watch a Bollywood film. I even drag my friends from school into these mini-celebrations in order to give them a glimpse of my life abroad.
It was not during my time abroad when I realized how much I grew as an individual. Rather, it occurred once I returned stateside. While I was abroad, I felt like I was merely adapting to my surroundings. Little did I realize the changes I was making would become permanent.
By working through this reverse culture shock alongside of my friends and family, I recognized the traits I gained or improved upon such as confidence, patience, understanding, and more.
And although I found the reverse culture shock to be more difficult than the initial shock of entering an unfamiliar country, I returned home equipped with new skills and traits to make the transition worthwhile and meaningful.