This post is one whose update was prolonged, not out of neglect, but out of fear. Fear of losing my way in life, the fear of walking down an unfamiliar road, and the apprehension of venturing into an unfamiliar world terrified my twenty-one year old self. Admitting failure is a step towards success and, thinking back, never in my life would the phrase, “I am going to fail so why not just quit” ever cross my mind. This exact phrase inhabited my mind the entire first year of returning back to America, not only this phrase, but the overwrought feeling of nationless was like shadow suffocating my entire being.
Every time my thoughts puzzled over my plans for graduation or the future arose, I panicked. My breathing became more irregular and a tight sensation overwhelmed my senses. Is this what anxiety feels like? The episodes were similar to when I had to do a presentation in front of class, however, this type of anxiety was not one which would disappear in a moment’s notice. Instead, this was the type of fear lingering long after completing a stressful event.
Just smile and get through the day. If you fake it, you will make it. These were phrases I told myself over and over. Nonetheless, there came a point where mere words went through one ear and out the other. Truth be told, upon my return I felt as if I left my comfort zone. This is my ‘home’, yet why do I feel so out of place. Still in a state of confusion, my irrational self aimlessly sought out an answers through meeting new people, performing random jobs, accepting promises and becoming someone unknown to my own family and self.
During this journey came an answer to one of my concerns at a time when I needed help the most. This person, whom I still greatly respect, explained to me of the terminology, reverse culture shock. Reverse culture shock is not to be lightly dealt with, and in some ways, is a shock which is more detrimental than culture shock itself.
You just packed the last of your bags, said your farewells, received the encouragement, and now you look ahead towards the check-in counter at the airport. The day of studying abroad far away from home has now become a reality. Skip forward a few steps to when you step out of the airplane, (probably stretching quite a bit due to lack of leg space) and you suddenly realize this location is very far away from ‘home’. Perhaps your destination consists of a language very familiar to your native tongue, or maybe this land contains a language very foreign to your own. Nonetheless, this is it, you are now on your own towards re-learning getting outside of the comfort zone all over again. Hours, days, even weeks go by, yet you still have an unsettling feeling about living in an unfamiliar country.
How did you feel? If you were nervous or anxious, you probably are susceptible or had culture shock. Then again, maybe you felt excited for the trip but felt much different once you experience something out of your comfort zone. Whichever hits first, this is the culture shock many people face. The unfamiliar air, the unacquainted figures or even a language barrier could all be reasons for why culture shock exists. Here is the thing, culture shock lasts but how long will this feeling stay? Nothing is wrong with receiving a culture shock and if you experience this emotion, I advise you to speak with others and find comfort. Studying abroad is a great opportunity, yet how are you to enjoy the country’s beauty if its difference in culture overwhelms your every being?
The reverse shock:
So, maybe the nervousness or anxious emotions never hit. Maybe you had a slight unsettling feeling, but adjusting to a new culture did not become a hindrance. You enjoyed life to the fullest, yet the most shock you received occurred within the first few weeks upon returning to your home.
Remember the feeling of making your first friend in a new country? Remember all those hours and days studying a foreign language? How about those times you had to learn how use the transportation system? All these experiences, all the unspoken moments, and all the growth you gained while studying abroad, were these memories soon all become nothing than mere memories?
These were questions repeating in my head over and over again, and though I hated the end result, the feeling of previous friendships withering away and becoming a distant memory was more surreal than ever before. Skype, Google Hangouts, Line, and many other online phone applications allow long distance talking much more feasible; however, distance is not the only thing keeping people from maintaining good relations. Others live in different lives, different time zones, different situations – even for a five minute video call, these events become obstacles in our lives. The gratefulness held towards those who are in my life is one held dearly, then again, so are the past friendships that diminish with time and effort. Everything shaped me into the person I am today, and for this, I thank everyone who was, became, or is still presently part of my life.
Which brings us to the end question, “Am I over it?” The answer is a simple, no. Will I ever become ‘over it’. More than just brushing reverse culture shock away, I embrace those feelings and use them as my advantage. Maintaining those answers allow expressions to be conveyed better. Meaning, if I can help just one person feel less anxious about studying abroad or returning home, well then all those experiences was well worth it all.
Studying abroad is exciting and the experience continues even upon your return. Is it for everyone? No, but having thoughts about going abroad could be an indication of doing at least a bit of research about your potential choices. You left your comfort zone and you did something so many others could not do, so be proud in the fact you reached towards the world of unfamiliarity. While receiving culture or reverse culture shock is nothing out of the ordinary, stay strong in your decisions and never feel regret for expanding your horizon.