Austrlia train While abroad, immersing in surroundings different than the norm may cause a whirl of emotions related to culture shock.  Each stage of culture shock varies based on personality, previous experience abroad, mental wellness, education and support systems.  Nonetheless, no matter how strong, sane and independent someone is, culture shock affects the majority who venture abroad for an extended period of time. Below, we’ve listed common thoughts and feelings from the first step on foreign land all the way to returning home.

1.)  Honeymoon Stage

Marseille, France - SF

Upon arrival in a faraway country, jet lag clouds your head, unfamiliar faces bustle by, and unique smells and music never experienced before pulse through your head.  Everything is novel and exciting; even the spoken language sounds similar to birds singing rather than people conversing! 

The first peek at your new home, a quaint apartment overlooking the outskirt streets of Paris, makes your heart dance.  Roommates are fabulous, tasting bizarre foods is amusing, and you discover that navigating to school on the unreliable bus system is an exhilarating challenge. 

2.)  Rejection and frustration

Amsterdam virtuoso

Suddenly, the quests for ‘normal’ breakfast food become exhausting, unexplained tears overwhelm your eyes, sleep breaks throughout the night, and calling mom at a reasonable hour is nothing less than arduous.  Waiting until 10 pm to eat dinner, stores closing in the middle of the day, and not going out until the wee hours of the night can take its toll on a college student. Gut wrenching homesickness washes over your body, as feeling like a foreigner and struggling to order a single slice of pizza proves vexing. Dwindling fascination and increased annoyance makes one wonder that maybe studying abroad was a rotten idea after all…

3.)  Adjustment

costa del sol - virtuoso

Finally,you tuck your compass away as you confidently navigate through the neighborhood, and the man behind the counter at the pizzeria knows your order by heart. Budding relationships fill the previous void in your chest, and the foreign language is less daunting.

4.)  Acceptance

When friendships thrive and shopping through the busy marketplace becomes second nature, the city finally feels like home.  Unfortunately, the near future foresees… flying back to the States, saying goodbye to friends and packing collected belongings while deep contemplation about your life, cultures and goals set in.

5.) Reverse culture shock

England Virtuoso

And it begins again… As the realization of returning home sinks in, so does extreme excitement of reconnecting with family and friends, similar to the emotions right before adventuring abroad.  Abundance of food choices on shelves of enormous grocery stores  and a quickened pace of life is unsuspectingly deluging.  Life didn’t pause while abroad, and it takes effort to learn about loved ones’ endeavors without you. No one is quite as eager to hear about stories as you are to tell them.  The explorations of being abroad cry for reliving, you search for ways to go back and feel significantly less independent.  Criticisms of your home culture cross your mind, which may be further aggravating.

Eventually, old patterns re-immerse. However, something will never be the same – your attitudes and perceptions of the world significantly broadened while abroad and your life goals have changed.   Appreciate every bit of emotion and hardship you experienced and overcame while abroad. You are richer for it.

About Carolyn Gladd

Carolyn was our Social Media Marketing Intern last fall and wrote several articles we are still enjoying. She is currently a University Relations Coordinator in the Greater Boston Area.

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