Those curious to study and work abroad are always threatened by the thought of reverse culture shock, but often wonder if it is real or if it will really happen to them. With one study abroad experience under my belt, I thought that reverse culture shock wouldn’t happen to me after being in Paris. What I realized, though, is that I was in Paris for almost twice as long as I was in Spain, and my graduate school and adult realities now are much different than my previous realities in the comfortable space of undergrad.
With a week gone by since I have arrived back to the United States, I have noticed reverse culture shock in both subtle and big ways. First of all, I experienced a physiological adjustment, with little to no sleep the night before my flight home, too much food during my flight, and the threat of a cold and cough after traveling near others who were sick. It took me almost five days to catch up on sleep and feel normal again. Fortunately, I am now physically feeling back in the Eastern time zone, but facing other adjustments in the transition process from student in study abroad mode, to student in vacation mode, to soon-to-be intern mode.
Another observation is that all my senses were heightened. I would “jump” with surprise when I heard English in France, and upon returning to the United States, I felt that jumping sensation repeatedly until I realized that English is normal again. The sound of candy wrappers on the airplane seemed to bother me and I have never noticed that before. My sense of smell was much more present, as I noticed how fresh the air was in my hometown of Rochester, Michigan after living in polluted city air in Paris. My sense of taste was heightened as I came to appreciate the diversity of my diet in the United States again, rather than the routine cereal, sandwich, and pasta that I had everyday with my host family in Paris. My eyes were very observant that I am now in a familiar environment again, rather than being surrounded by historical wonders, the constant fear of getting lost, and the constant desire to explore and learn about the world. I also felt a need to hug all of my relatives and friends more than usual, after being distanced from them and only being able to send a Facebook or WhatsApp message.
Building on the need for hugs and human touch again, I have noticed a difference in my relationships with loved ones. After four months of limited communication and light-hearted conversation, focusing mainly on my adventures, reality seemed to smack me in the face that my loved ones are facing challenges and they are not in this little safe bubble that I warmly remember as home. While home is warm and safe, there are the same challenges and changes as anywhere else in the world. After four months in explorer mode, I have now returned to daughter, sister, girlfriend, and friend modes, which bring me much joy but also bring hardship that is easy to forget as an explorer. The hardship has made it more difficult to get along, likely because of the pent-up energy of missing each other combined with the fact that I now live a 12-hour drive away from home for graduate school. My goal is to apply the life lessons about being a better person that I have gained from my study abroad experience, in order to merge my two worlds of exploration and relationships.
On a more positive note, I have realized that I have much to be grateful for in the United States, with a loving family, supportive friends, a safe home, a nice car, a great education, and exciting opportunities to advance in my career. During this study abroad experience more than my first one, I have realized that I am very grateful to be American, and have become more aware of the many benefits that the United States provides for its citizens. Leaving home for a while has provided me with more gratitude when I am home, cherishing special moments with loved ones and doing my best to avoid conflict in our limited time together. With another language and greater understanding of world issues from my international classmates in Paris, I have a wealth of knowledge that I wouldn’t have gained had I not studied and lived in Paris. This worldly wisdom will help me as I enter the world of international business and interact with diverse people from around the world.
Going forward, I am reminding myself everyday to be patient with the transition process. I am sharing photos and stories with family and friends to combine my two worlds of being abroad and being home. I am finding comfort in nature, with seasons and sunsets reminding me that there are some parts of life that are constant and foreseeable. And finally, going abroad and returning home again reteaches me the importance of living with an inspirNational mindset, where I find joy in learning from new cultures, seeking new opportunities, and having an open mind to the world around me.