Reverse Culture Shock: Why Does Everything Feel Weird Now?

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Why Does Everything Feel Weird Now?

You’re back. It’s been a whirlwind. Your mom and dad greeted you tearfully at the airport (only this time they were happy tears instead of sad ones). Grandpa swept you up in a big bear hug. Your friends went berserk at the sight of you, and you’ve had a wonderful time catching up, laughing, stuffing your face, and generally settling back into your old, familiar, friendly community.

But then you wake up one morning, and it hits you: Did that gap year really happen? Was it all a dream? Did you actually travel thousands of miles – alone – in search of new places and a new sense of self? What happened to that sense of self? Is s/he still around? Do I even belong here anymore?

Bam. Reverse culture shock.

What Does Reverse Culture Shock Mean For You?

Much like the flood of emotions you felt throughout your transition to life abroad (“culture shock”), a similar psychological response occurs when you return home. Sure, it’s not “new” in the traditional sense. But you’re returning with new eyes and new realizations, and seeing the “old” can be jarring (to put it nicely).

Everything feels weird because you’re experience reverse culture shock. The good news is that you’ll get through it and wind up feeling happier, more satisfied, and more self-assured than ever before. The semi-bummer news (or exciting, if you’re one of those, gung-ho, super-invested in self-development types!) is that it’s going to take a bit of work. But with the right mindset and a little self-love, you’ll be whistling a reintegration tune in no time.

What Does Reverse Culture Shock Mean for Your Friendships?

It can mean a lot of different things. Some Gap Year students return to their former besties and pick things up right where they left off. You gab, share stories, and start making more memories – together – immediately.

But what if you come back from your program and are unsure of your friend group?
What if the distance made you realize that you want to surround yourself with different types of people? What if you don’t really want to pursue a friendship or two anymore?

This can be tough to navigate for anyone at any stage of life. The first step is to be honest. It can be hard, but you owe it to that person – and your history – to be upfront with them. Explain that you’re focusing on yourself or want to engage in new hobbies or groups that will make you less available. Explain that you’re wrestling with a lot of new feelings and emotions and want to do it on your own.

It’ll hurt and it’ll be hard, but it is essential that you are true to your newfound awareness. Your friend group can become the easiest, slipperiest slope into old habits and bad behavior (you know, the kind that you’re trying to shake now).

What Does Reverse Culture Shock Mean for Your Future Education, or Career Prospects?

You took a Gap Year because you wanted to better understand yourself and the way the world works. You wanted to polish your resume and return to school with a renewed sense of clarity about your passion and purpose. You

That’s all fine and dandy, but what good are those intentions if there is no follow through?

If you choose to revert to your old self instead of pushing through your reverse culture shock period, all of your experiences will be, well, moot. While no opportunity is one wasted if you garnered something of value from it, it is your responsibility to yourself to follow through with becoming the man or woman you decided to be.

This translates to your future job and academic prospects. You won’t be able to morph your experiences into leverage for competitive courses or positions if you didn’t do the work of fusing the lessons from your life abroad into your life back home.

How to be the Master of Reverse Culture Shock

Resolve to be Patient

Remember how long it took you get over that break-up with the one you thought was the one?
You’d wake up some mornings determined to be #overit, but then you’d find yourself tirelessly scrolling their feeds some two hours later. But eventually, those stalk sessions became fewer and further between and eventually, you actually meant it when you said “I hope s/he’s happy.”

To the same extent – while it seems dark and scary now, you will get through this. You might not wake up tomorrow feeling 100% integrated and ready to go. You might not wake up in a month feeling it. But little by little, you will overcome these emotional obstacles and feel “at home” again – or at least at peace with being at home.

Feed Your Wild Side

You’ve had so many adventures packed into your recent months. No, literally. You’ve had SO many adventures. Stopping all that fun cold-turkey can feel disruptive and challenging to your ability to be content at home. Now it’s up to you: you can either whine and live in the past, or you can adopt a killer, intrepid mentality to accompany you through life.

Look for new adventures in your old town or university. Join new clubs. Meet new people. Take a new way home. Go on micro-adventures – a concept my dear friend Avy once imparted on me. Weekends away, day trips to new towns, camping in your backyard… all viable microadventures, and all within your reach. Continue to nurture your need for adventure!

Stay in Touch

You made a ton of great connections, relationships, and friendships while on your Gap Year – don’t fall victim to the lazy “it’s too hard to keep in touch” attitude that pervades our lives when we’re stuck in routine. Set up Skype dates. Kick it old school and send a letter. Print photos and send them to your homestay family. Write reviews of your program provider and volunteer to talk with potential participants. Use Oovoo when you can’t just chat one-on-one. Ask your program leaders for guidance, advice, recommendation letters.

You’ll get out of the relationship what you put in, and each of these outlets will be incredible resources for you as you continue to process your Gap Year, your re-entry period, and your next steps.

Part and parcel with your grand adventure, this stage of the experience is just as important and integral to your overall success as when you had your boots on the ground abroad. Really sit in the discomfort and disorient of these days. Reflect on how far you’ve come, and where you’re going now that you’re equipped with these incredible experiences.

Photo Credit: Ali Naqi

How to Maximize Your Gap Year Through Continuous Reflexive Learning

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Taking a Gap Year is a great way to experience new things, you wouldn’t otherwise have time for later on. The things you do, and learn throughout this period can provide you with a wealth of knowledge you can harness for years to come, if you know how to use these experiences to their fullest.

Before you begin your Gap Year, it might be a good idea to consider joining a Gap Year program. This way, you’ll make sure that you have a sound plan when it comes to how you’re going to spend your time during this period.

Taking a full year off before you go to college might seem like a very long time. But as a learning experience, it’s relatively short. Think about how long it takes to become a certified nurse, for example. More than that, the information you will be receiving will be more or less unstructured. You won’t have a teacher besides you, explaining what everything means, and what you should be looking for. That’s where reflexive learning comes in.

What is Reflexive Learning?

Reflexive learning is much more than just accumulating information, and being able to reproduce it later. That’s basically the traditional, didactic mode of teaching. A professor stands in front of the classroom, and talks about their subject, while the students take down that information, and learn it, in order to pass their exams. However, rarely do you get a chance to think about how you can apply that information in real life situations. And rarely do you get a chance to find new ways of combining those bits of information, to reach new ideas.

A reflective learner takes charge of the learning process. Apart from gathering information, you’re also responsible for putting it together, and then assessing the results of this process. More and more colleges are opting for this mode of learning, even when it comes to training their own staff.

It helps you become more aware of your understanding of the world around you, your biases, and preferences. In the long run, it can help you become more efficient in your learning process, and more quick to adapt to new situations. Reflexive learning should become a habit, to get the most out of your learning experience, no matter where you may stumble upon them.

Reflexive Learning Takes Practice

This type of learning requires a lot of practice for it to become effective. Encountering different cultures is known to be a trigger for reflexive thinking, because it shed new light on many things that you are accustomed to, and tend to take for granted. Using your gap year as an opportunity to travel, and discover new cultures can be one of the most life changing experience you can have.

Observing the way other cultures understand and deal with similar problems provides you with an opportunity to think about the ways in which you deal with certain issues, and how much of that practice has to do with your culture, rather than your own inclinations. You discover ways of dealing with certain situations that are much more efficient, because they will feel more natural to you.

Training yourself to reflect upon your personal experiences is also going to give a head start when it comes to college. For teachers, it may quite difficult to find the perfect method to deliver their classes so all of their students benefit from it, when they have to deal with dozens, or hundreds of people.

Get to Know Yourself & Others

The skill you will have gained during your Gap Year is going to help structure information in such a way as to help you retain it, and use it later on. And the experiences you will have gained are going to provide you with something to which you can compare and contrast the information you receive in college.

And use this time to learn about how the world works, and more importantly, about how people are. Really get to know all the people you meet along the way. And don’t just focus on what they have to offer. Think about yourself, and how you relate to them as well. The truth is, you’re never going to be able to understand someone fully. But you have a good chance to know yourself in depth. And the best way to understand things about you is in relation to others.

After your Gap Year is over, you shouldn’t let all of those memories, and teachings gather dust. Any encounter can be a learning experience, as long as you use it as such. The only time wasted is the time not spent learning something new. Take every opportunity you get to challenge your preconceptions, and make reflexive learning a life-long habit.

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About the author: Amanda Wilks is a Boston University graduate and a part-time writer. She has a great interest in everything related to career-building advice and entrepreneurship and loves helping people reach their true potential.

6 Ways to Keep the Gap Year Spirit Alive

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Whether you’re still shaking out the dust from your pack or your passport has been safely stored for a few weeks, it’s never too soon (or too late) to think about ways you can integrate your Gap-Year-self into your life back home.

For some, coming back home is the ultimate challenge in “walking the walk” and “talking the talk” – the walk and the talk that you found while on your Gap Year. It makes no sense to have all of these new insights about yourself only to tuck them away and hide them after you’ve returned home. Now’s the time for you to step up, to integrate your realizations into your daily life, and continue moving towards progression as an individual (because let’s face it, there’s always more to learn).

Remember the adventuresome, fun-loving sides of your personality that shone bright during your Gap Year? Here’s how to keep that spirit alive, even long after your travel posts pop up on your On This Day notification.

Join the Fight for Social Justice!

Ask around your university campus for causes or organizations that work to eradicate the human rights issues you are recently passionate for. An example organization is Valparaiso University’s Social Action Leadership Team (SALT). Finding communities of impassioned young adults will spur further civic engagement and action – a perfect environment for a post-Gap-Year heart like yours.

Find other cool clubs

Language learning groups, meet up’s for those who speak the same second language as you, organizations that help international students or immigrants integrate smoothly into their new city or school, clubs to help ESL learners in town. They’re ALL fair game and ALL awesome.

Just because you’re not an Asian American doesn’t mean you can’t join Asian American Student Association at the University of Oklahoma. Use it as a means for learning more about their struggles, their joys, their celebrations – what it means to navigate life in the US with a different background. The same can be applied for any identity group that you are an advocate/ally for but don’t share in that sub-identity per se.

In general, clubs are a low-key, awesome strategy for connecting with other folks who appreciate culture – don’t be afraid of feeling foolish. Remember the fear and nerves you had when you started your Gap Year? And how awesome it turned out? Same applies here. #KaboshTheComfortZone

Volunteer more!

Beyond the satisfaction of knowing you helped brighten another’s day, you know firsthand that some of life’s best lessons are hidden amongst learning experiences in situations you’d otherwise never find yourself in. Actively seek more community service projects in your university or hometown, on campus or beyond campus limits.

We challenge you to think broadly about groups of people or causes that you aren’t familiar with, and using volunteer hours as a way to educate yourself, connect with others, and give back in a meaningful way. These volunteer projects might not be as “exotic” as those on your Gap Year, but that doesn’t make them any less powerful or give them any less of an impact. Find local resources through United Way,

You’re a Global Citizen. Act Like It!

How does being a global citizen manifest itself into action in your daily life? Here are just a handful of creative ideas:

  • Read national news sources as well as foreign
  • Stay up to date on causes you care about worldwide
  • Find a heart-centered mentor who cares about global issues
  • Consider environmental repercussions of your consumption, lifestyle, transportation choices, etc.
  • “Like” Facebook pages from multiple political and ethnic perspectives
  • Support fair trade, local, and grassroots organizations over franchises and chains whenever possible
  • Consciously read books and articles from opposing viewpoints to sharpen your opinions
  • Talk up travel – the “more than touristing” kind – with anyone and everyone who will listen
  • Advocate for the marginalized people you met while abroad, whether through local government initiatives, online forums, etc.
  • Respect and value diversity of thought!
  • Be willing to act to make the world a more equitable and sustainable place

It’s a title that bears responsibility. It’s our hope that your Gap Year made you a more aware global citizen, and that you’re willing to step forward towards incorporating those values into your daily life. But this takes work  – especially at the beginning – but it will bring you the kind of satisfaction that you assumed was unique to your Gap Year.

Share Your Stories With Friends

Don’t let your shared experiences with those who look, think, talk, act, drive… the list goes on… differently than you stay a thing of the past. It’s up to YOU to share their stories, and bring their realities to the forefront of the individuals in your life who struggle to empathize with the daily lives of those in other countries. Use photos, use anecdotes, use formal presentations. Sing songs or share memories. Highlight the good parts as well as the struggles.

Only through educating people within our own communities about those who live in communities outside our own will we be able to effectively move forward as a global community at large. It’s your job – nay, your duty – to sensitively share others’ stories.

Brainstorm Ways to Travel Again!

Let’s face it – there’s just something cool about being thrown into the unknown and left to stand on your own two feet. Travel has a way of jolting our senses in ways that the familiar just can’t. If you want to keep your intrepid self in the present rather than the past, why not start planning your next grand adventure?

Open up that big world map, tack it to the wall, lay down and just daydream. Think of new activities and experiences you want to have. Prioritize those travel goals. Then pop open your laptop and get to work on transforming those daydreams to reality (don’t worry, 12+ open tabs at once is the norm!).

Regardless if you travel one hour south or twelve hours north, whether by plane, train, or automobile, whether with passport in tow or to the town over, the spirit of adventure can be found around every corner. Here’s the secret: it’s a mindset. Heck, you don’t even need to travel to capture the spirit – find ways to be excited and optimistic about your daily life (who knows what incredibly memorable experience you’ll have on this typical Tuesday, anyway?!). Capture that special courage that you discovered on your Gap Year – and convert it to an equally audacious sense of self no matter where you land.

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