Thoughts on Reverse Culture Shock

Bethany Mulcahy is a student at Virginia Commonweath University. She studied abroad with ISA in Brussels, Belgium.

Recognizing the New You

So it’s been almost two months since I’ve returned from Europe. With all the hype of studying abroad, I rarely thought about what it would be like coming home.

Sure, I’d be sharing pictures and telling everyone the exciting stories, but what happens once school starts again?

hype in paris

Throughout my stay in Belgium my abroad advisors warned us of culture shock. If you’re going through the study abroad process now, you know that ISA does a lot to prepare you for the shock of going abroad.

And for the most part, you expect it–when you sign up to study in a completely different country, you’re agreeing to experience a new normal. It could be big, obvious stuff like the language barrier, or something you didn’t foresee, like the peanut butter in Europe tastes weird.

Reverse culture shock? ISA has materials to help you with returning home as well, but it isn’t something you think to prepare for.

It’s also known as the re-entry phase, when students return to their home country, feeling mixed emotions of restlessness, alienation and even homesickness towards the connections you made abroad.

Studying abroad has changed you

Turns out the more I ate it, I came to really like the peanut butter. Coming home you may find that your tastes, values, goals: whatever it is, it has evolved into something bigger than you could’ve ever imagined before.


It’s okay to feel different, I know I sure do.

Think about it: before you left you pushed pause on your normal life, but your friends at home kept on going. Life’s going to be a little funky once you press play again.

No matter what it is that I am doing, I’m struck by a memory of being abroad. I want to start every sentence with, “When I was in Belgium…” My mind is on the laughter (and some tears shed) with my roommates and ISA group, as well as the locals that welcomed us with open arms. We became one big family by the very end.

ISA family

Returning home doesn’t mean it’s over

Really, I think the biggest challenge of coming back is reflecting on your experiences, noticing you feel different and realizing it’s okay. I feel like I left a piece of myself in Belgium. And I know that one day when I return, I’ll rediscover that side of myself again. What I took away from my experience, however, has been so much more valuable than I could have predicted.

Studying abroad flips your understanding of the world upside down. There is so much more waiting beyond your city limits. It’s a time to immerse yourself in a new culture and become a more empathetic individual.

It’s a time for personal development; traveling in small groups or even alone will breed independence. And not to mention broadening your personal network and becoming a more marketable individual overall.

If you’re just now starting your journey abroad, I can speak for everyone when I say that I’m so envious of you. Your life is going to change in the most unpredictable ways. Go out of your comfort zone and have a blast, you won’t regret it.

But if you’ve been through it all and returned home then you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Anyone who has returned home and wishes to share the excitement of studying abroad should consider applying to become a Global Ambassador for their campus. Find out more here.

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