I can easily say that my four months abroad were the best four months of my life. I learned so much about Italy and its culture, traveled to seven countries, made lifelong friends, and ate delicious gelato multiple times a week. But, my trip wasn’t all fine and dandy. When I first arrived abroad, I felt alone and it took me a little while to adjust. The same thing happened when I came home. It took me awhile to adjust to my life back in Pennsylvania. A lot of people experience what I experienced: culture shock and reverse culture shock. Below, I have compiled a list of what I believe are the top four things you can do to help avoid each.
At first, my life in Italy was very uncomfortable, but as time passed, the unfamiliar became familiar, my new friends became my family, and Florence became my home.
1. Do some research ahead of time
I studied abroad with American Institute for Foreign Study (AIFS) and a few weeks before we left everyone was sent a pre-departure packet via email. It included a list of twenty questions we should try to answer about the country we would be living in, websites and books to look at, and questions for us to answer about what we expected to gain from our trip. In my opinion, this pre-departure packet was one of the most useful things AIFS provided us with because it helped me become more prepared for my journey and know what to expect.
2. Go abroad expecting differences
Of course, no matter how much research you do, you will never know exactly what to expect. So be prepared for things to be different than you expected. If you go abroad thinking you know everything about a country and will fit right into the culture, you will be surprised when it doesn’t come that easily to you. If you expect differences, it will make it that much easier to assimilate.
3. Keep yourself busy
There’s a good chance that when you first arrive abroad, you might not know anyone with you. That’s what happened to me, and I quickly felt upset and alone. A great way to deal with this is to involve yourself in as much as possible (of course, be safe!). When we arrived to our orientation, AIFS had set up numerous different activities for the students to do. I recommend doing as many activities as you can, especially at first, because that is how you will meet people. Once you make some friends, everything will get a little bit easier.
4. Don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone
Sometimes people are nervous to do new things, but how do they expect to learn anything about the culture and country they’re studying in if they don’t want to step out of their comfort zone? Don’t be afraid! Go outside of you comfort zone, and put yourself in situations that are unique to that culture. You’re experiencing what other countries have to offer, which is what studying abroad is all about.
Reverse Culture Shock
Coming back to Pennsylvania was as hard as leaving for Italy had been just four months before. Florence had become my home and adjusting to life back in America took some time. I quickly found that settling back into my everyday life at home would be difficult, and I had a hard time accepting that people didn’t want to hear my stories from studying abroad non-stop.
1. Allow yourself to adjust to the time zone
One of the most important things, in my opinion, is allowing a couple days to adjust to the local time zone. I found that because I had properly adjusted to the new time zone, it was much easier to adjust to my lifestyle. Also, getting back onto a normal sleeping and eating routine really helped me avoid any mental breakdowns due to lack of sleep or energy (which are very common as a busy college student!).
2. Keep yourself busy
When I returned to America, part of me wanted to see EVERYONE I hadn’t seen in months. But, another part of me wanted to curl up in bed and cry while looking at pictures from my trip. Instead, I settled for a happy medium, which I think was the best decision I could have made. I tried to do things I would normally do before I went abroad, like going out to lunch with my friends, shopping with my mom, or a movie with my boyfriend. I found that easing myself back into my life seemed much more manageable than taking everything on at once.
3. Make a photo album
After about a month home, I felt ready to make a study abroad photo album. (Okay, I lied. I made four photo albums, totaling about 1,000 pictures.) Taking the time to go through my pictures made me realize how blessed I was to have had the opportunity to travel around the world. As cliché as it sounds, the process of making the albums made me happy it happened, not sad it was over.
4. Travel whenever possible
Even though I’ve been home for about a year now, I still miss my time abroad every single day. I have found that traveling, no matter what the distance is, can be a great way to relive my days abroad. Since returning to the US, I’ve traveled to five states I had never been to before.
I know that everyone experiences culture shock and reverse culture shock differently, but I hope my eight tips can help if you find yourself in culture and reverse culture shock situations similar to mine.
|Guest blogger Molly Byrne is a junior at West Chester University of Pennsylvania who studied abroad in Florence, Italy through AIFS. Here she shares her top 8 pieces of advice for travelers who experience culture shock and reverse culture shock. Check out her spotlight to learn more about her time in Florence!|