Going for a semester abroad is a really exciting experience - for many students it is the best semester of their whole study period. As Exchange Coordinator and Head of Student Mobility at the International Office - Welcome Center, I, Lena Neureiter, advise numerous students about the many opportunities to spend time abroad during their studies. However, depending on the country you choose, you might discover smaller or bigger cultural differences. The adaptation to the new culture can be accompanied by a culture shock that has to be overcome in order to be able to enjoy the time abroad and settle down.
People normally go through four different stages during their time abroad:
- Honeymoon stage (being excited about the new country and culture)
- Negotiation stage (finding out about cultural differences, feeling lonely)
- Adjustment stage (getting accustomed to the new culture)
- Adaptation stage (being able to participate fully in the host country)
Are you studying Graz University of Technology (TU Graz) interested in a semester abroad? The International Office - Welcome Center supports you in your search, all information can be found on the intranet TU4U on the page "Study abroad".
However, coming back home you might experience the same phenomenon. At first you are extremely happy to hug friends and family again but then slowly you start to feel like an alien at home - your mindset changed, you made so many experiences and at home it seems nothing has changed, apart from the colour of your mom’s tablecloth. This shock you experience is called reverse culture shock. But no worries, if you already mastered all stages of the culture shock when moving to a new country, you will also readapt to your own culture - just take your time.
Reverse culture shock - the right preparation is the key
Reverse culture shock after arriving home can put quite a damper on the stay abroad you have just completed. However, there are some things you can do to recover more quickly from reverse culture shock - or even avoid it altogether:
Before going abroad
- participate in the Intercultural Awareness Session offered by the International Office – Welcome Center to receive the best preparation for your stay abroad
Before you depart back home
- make sure to visit the places that are still at the top of your to-do list
- host a farewell party or say goodbye in a proper way to your newly made friends
- be patient – do not expect that you will get used to your life back home immediately
- keep in mind that your family and friends may be busy with work/studies and may not have much time for you - this is not a sign that they do not appreciate it that you are back, but their life went on and they have their duties to perform
- prepare a collection of pictures or create a photo book - this makes it a lot easier when people ask about your semester abroad because pictures tell more than words
- plan one or the other short trip to a location in your vicinity or to a neighbouring country
- if you miss the international flair, get in touch with internationals living in your city (e.g. you could support incomings at TU Graz by being an ESN buddy) or visit the International House at TU Graz.
- take your time to reflect – become aware of and value the cultural differences of your host country and your home country, both of them have their justification
- find like-minded people - everyone has to go through their own reverse culture shock experience but you might also have friends who experience the same, meet up with them and talk about your feelings
Even if you know about reverse culture shock, it can still catch you off guard. Make sure to relax and keep in mind that step by step you will get used again to your own culture and feel integrated again in your community.