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