While the first couple of questions are probably a conversation starter, the third likely a conversation ender, and the fourth purely a myth, perhaps the real question that your friends should ask upon return from abroad is “How has life been readjusting back to home?”
Before departing for abroad, students are bombarded with tips on how to prepare for the distinctions in culture, foreign etiquette and various other social norms that ultimately make travel so challenging yet rewarding. Students are often shown a “W-curve “chart similar to the one below, which highlights the study abroad experience like so:
Student arrives in foreign destination and immediately experiences a romanticized “honeymoon period,” followed by culture shock. Culture shock leads to gradual recovery and eventually full adjustment is achieved…at the baggage check on the departing flight back home. The student giddily experiences yet another “honeymoon period” back home, but after experiencing a previously held routine, the crisis of reverse culture shock attacks. Recovery and adjustment and a safe distance from Vegemite alleviates such crises, and successful re-integration is accomplished.
Obviously such an experience is not universal, and hopefully true integration in the foreign culture occurs before packing time, but the concept of reverse culture shock is quite relevant and severely underrated. As Scott Fabricant describes in this recent article, “Most people who had a good time abroad will be a little blue coming back…Your time abroad can be an amazing, liberating experience. If you’re lucky, you can make fantastic friends, fulfill lifelong dreams, even recreate yourself from scratch, but coming home [can be] a real crash.”
Similar to culture shock, an awareness of the causes and implications of reverse culture shock can result in a much smoother transition. Many campuses also offer a multitude of resources, from counseling services to re-entry social events and cultural clubs. Students frequently return to campus with a new affinity toward a recently discovered passion while abroad.
Whether it be salsa dancing or research on AIDS policy, there are many opportunities to collaborate socially and academically with fellow students and professors to incorporate such interests into your life back home. Better yet, find ways to engage in the international community after your return. Teach English to immigrants from your abroad country. Organize an international film festival featuring films that showcase socially relevant issues, followed by a panel including natives of your foreign destination.
When faced with culture shock, don’t let a challenged comfort zone control your abroad experience. The solution, rather, is just the reverse. Embrace the challenge, explore the unfamiliar, and allow your experience abroad to re-define your comfort zone. Who knows, maybe there is even room for Vegemite.