Reverse Culture Shock: How to Prepare International Students for U.S. Departure

It’s been a great school year, and an amazing experience getting to know your international students. Now, it’s time for them to start preparing for the long journey back home which can prove to be more difficult than expected.

Reflect back on your experience with your international student. They are likely a very different person now than they were when you picked them up at the airport all those months ago.  They have significantly improved their English speaking skills, survived the school year, acclimated to their new environment, made new friends, experienced new things, and successfully overcome any and all symptoms of culture shock. They have become completely accustomed to their new life in the U.S.

But what happens when they return home?

Reverse culture shock is a phenomenon that can occur to an international student when they re-enter their native country. Similar to when they arrived in the U.S., they will likely run the stages and exhibit the symptoms of culture shock over again when they return home.

Re-entry can cause the effects of culture shock just the same as the initial arrival to a foreign country. Since the student has become used to their day to day life in the U.S., they will have trouble adjusting to the drastically different culture from back home.

What are some reasons reverse culture shock occurs?

  • International students tend to glorify their home country while abroad in the U.S. After re-entry, their unrealistic expectations turn out to be a disappointing reality.
  • The invaluable experience gained abroad in the U.S. has changed the international student, and they must once again learn to adjust their daily routine.
  • They must learn to adjust back to home life including a different set of rules at home, the different teaching methods at school, and the transportation system.
  • International students may feel their role in the household has changed; they no longer feel like a special guest when they return home and this makes them feel displaced.
  • International students may be behind on cultural trends in their native country. Having spent a long time in the U.S., their preferences may have changed and they are not up to date on cultural colloquialisms.

How can you help prepare your international student for re-entry?

  • Help them adequately pack everything they will need to go home with. Are they coming back for next semester? Help them decide what things can stay in the house or go to storage.
  • Help them identify what new details help attribute to their identity since they have been living in the U.S. Many of their friends and family back home will likely notice how they have changed immediately.
  • Help them schedule time to say goodbye to the people they have connected with since their arrival in the U.S.
  • They should also have time to visit their favorite places and restaurants one more time before leaving.
  • Perhaps throw them a farewell party to wish them good luck, and to let them know they will be missed!
  • Remain available as a contact, and check up on them when they return home.

Many international students will have mixed feelings of excitement and anxiety when returning home. They will likely go through the same phases attributed with culture shock after re-entry. It is common for the student to feel like a foreigner once again, even though they are back in their home country. However, just like they were able to adjust to U.S. culture, they surely will reach the recovery and adjustment phases when they return home.