We, as UEA study abroad students, are by no means ill-prepared or supported. Before leaving we are told of the excitement, the opportunity, the highs and the lows of spending a year abroad but we’re also warned of the formidable ‘reverse culture shock’. The feelings of isolation and confusion experienced by a lot of students after returning from their time away.
After months of adapting to the life at Temple University in North Philadelphia, I felt I was a proud not-so-local local. I’d learnt exactly how much a dime, nickel and cent was, I could accurately and appropriately throw words such as ‘jawn’ and ‘jimmies’ into my casual conversation and most of all I’d learnt to pronounce words with just the right amount of mixed accent so that people could understand what I was saying and simultaneously know I was English and cool. I’d made it. I really had.
So why, after 10 months of strengthening myself as an individual, gaining independence and insight into what it took to be on your own, did I fall at the first hurdle when back in my homeland? I’d mastered the art of being adaptable and easy going, yet the minute I was placed in the familiarity of my home university I found it hard to know what my place was, where I belonged and what to do.
Reverse culture shock hits us all in different ways. Violet Wilson, a 4th year American Literature and Creative Writing student here at UEA said that after her year at Oklahoma University she would “catch [her]self starting all [her] stories with ‘on my year abroad…’ and feel bad because no one at home can appreciate how special it was” and that “re-learning how to be at home is hard. Going from being so independent to coming home, your mum telling you to clean your room”.
We’re adaptable, new people, and suddenly we’ve come back to a place we occupied as someone entirely different. It can feel like it doesn’t fit; like everything we learnt abroad and all the skills we gained have no place in this old, tired place. For me, my friends throughout my first two years here had graduated and I had to go through the whole friend-making process all over again. Not to mention I had a dissertation, coursework and new content to cover. I felt out of place and abundantly lost upon my immediate return.
The reality myself and many others have found after giving our old home a bit more time isn’t nearly as bleak however. It’s true, you feel a little confused and frustrated having learnt how to adapt and change, yet failing at the first test when getting back, however the new person you’ve become deserves a new chance. Coming back, whilst daunting and scary at first, gave me the opportunity to experience my home university in a whole new light. I made new friends and joined new societies. I learnt what I love and dedicated time to it, writing essays on topics that gripped me and coming to understand my new place in the world. My time abroad taught me to be open, to try new things and create new opportunities and experiences and that didn’t stop when I came back.
When abroad I came to understand that the only person responsible for my well-being, my happiness and my time, is me. If I was to have an excellent time abroad I had to make it happen and the exact same rang true for my life back in England. If I am to leave university on a high I have to make the best things happen for myself. Now, the pride and excitement I feel in these last few weeks, looking at how far I’ve come, the decisions I’ve made and the ways I’ve come to make the most of UEA can entirely be attributed to the lessons I’ve learnt on my year abroad.
Yes, reverse culture shock can hit just as much as the initial shock of moving away, however if it is taken only as a sign of how much a person has grown and gained, then its presence can be welcomed and understood as an opportunity to further the exploration we experienced whilst away.
4th Year, American Literature and Creative Writing