Not expected and unpepared for reverse culture shock
Many people expect culture shock when they are going abroad for some time but do not expect reverse culture shock upon return to their home country. Although they may have heard about reverse culture shock before they left abroad, it is hard to imagine what they would experience or feel. One of the interviewees in my research mentioned that she heard about it, but thought this would be not applicable to her. She was prepared for culture shock but not for reverse culture shock. But she definitely got one.
Negative and positive experiences
Regarding not knowing what to experience and feel regarding culture shock, it seems expedient to specify the phenomenon. The literature and my research showed that there are negative and positive experiences. The research of Gaw (2000) was directed specifically to problems, but scholars (Pritchard, 2011; Haines, 2013) also speak about an expanded range of skills and personal understanding, which can be seen as positive experiences. All these experiences are referring to different dimensions of Reverse Culture Shock (Ward, Bochner and Furnham (2001).
Multi-dimensional: cognitive, emotional, behavioral`and personal development
Results of my research among 118 study abroad students confirmed experiences of reverse culture shock in several areas: emotion, cognitive and behaviour. The students also experienced personal development. So rather than one dimensional, the phenomenon seems to be multifaceted and I argue therefor to distinguish multiple dimensions ( cognitive, emotional, behavioral and personal developent) of re-entry shock and use the terms emotional disbalance, behavioral disorientation and cognitive re-orientation. This may contribute to make the phenomenon more understandable. Students can also relate easier to the re-entry process this way, identifying their experiences related to one or more dimensions. Moreover, it does support and emphasises the individual experience. This is something Pusch (2005) also speaks about and rather visualises a re-entry “worm” than the U-curve from Lysgaard (1955). She argues that coming back to your home country is a process which can differ from person to person.
The students who participated in my research experienced aspects of reverse-culture shock in all three areas, but the emphasis is on cognitive aspects, such as having a changed worldview, more respect for other countries and cultures or other goals in life. In general they have the feeling that they have changed. The overtone is therefore on cognitive reorientation instead of emotional imbalance (e.g. feeling alienated, feeling not understood, missing friends from abroad, feeling bored) and behavioral disorientation ( e.g. other clothing styles, communication). Furthermore, it became clear that students experience self-development (see table) such as more self-confidence, more self-reliant, more perseverance and more flexible.
Reverse culture shock or re-entry process?
In my view the term reverse culture shock also may not properly reflect what the phenomenon entails. This can also be mirrored in the literature, different terms are being used in relation to the phenomenon: reverse culture shock, re-entry shock, re-entry process. The term ‘shock’ has a negative connotation, while there seem to be negative but also positive experiences and second the term ’reverse culture shock’ may be quite restrictive. The overtone is on ‘culture’, which may cause the assumption that there are mostly ‘culture’ issues, while as explained there is a broad variety of described experiences on emotional, behavioral, cognitive and personal development level. And last the connotation with ‘shock’ may be that the phenomenon is very sudden and for a short while, while some described experiences like a broadened perspective or realising to feel more confident or being self-reliant seem to be lasting and not for a short period. When students return after a period abroad, they enter a process in which they can experience the described symptoms. The term re-entry process may therefor seem to do more justice to the phenomenon.
-Gaw, K. F. (2000). Reverse culture shock in students returning from overseas. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 24(1), 83–104.
-Gullahorn, J. T., & Gullahorn, J. E. (1963). An extension of the U-curve hypothesis. Journal of Social Issues, 19(3), 33–47.
-Haines, D. (2013). “More Aware of Everything”: Exploring the Returnee Experience in American Higher Education. Journal of Studies in International Education 17(1) 9 –38.
-Lysgaard, S. (1955). Adjustment in a foreign society: Norwegian Fulbright grantees visiting the United States. International Social Science Bulletin, 7, 45–51.
-Pritchard, R. (2011). Re-entry Trauma: Asian Re-integration After Study in the West. Journal of Studies in International Education 15(1) 93 –111.
-Saltsidis-Oekas, R. (2018), A study into the reverse culture shock experience of outgoing Exchange and Grand Tour students
-Saltsidis-Oekas, R. , Nicolai, N. (2019), Getting the best out of your travel and stay abroad, and how to cope with reverse-culture schock. Prepare, Reflect, Grow.
-Ward, C., S. Bochner, & A. Furnham. The Psychology of Culture Shock, 2nd. ed. East Sussex, Great Britain: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2001. Chapter 7 (Sojourners: International students) deals with the study abroad and international educational Exchange groups both in terms of adjustment abroad and upon return home.