Beating Reverse Culture Shock

By Bri Dascher

So, you’re finally home after a semester (or year, or summer) abroad. You put on your best pair of bravery pants, you hopped on an international flight bound for adventure, and you learned more about yourself and the world than you ever thought possible.

And now, after weeks to months spent exploring and figuring out how to navigate all those quirks that felt so terrifying when you first landed in your host country, you’re back home. While you knew you’d certainly be torn when this moment came – a part of you was so excited to get back to the people you love and the creature comforts of home, and another part was just as sad to go – you really had no idea what you were getting into.

In fact, it’s not nearly the relief you thought it would be. After fighting intense cravings for ice cubes and public bathrooms and not having to convert currency in your head for every transaction for months, you’re back – and nothing is right.switzerland-lungern_by-james-harmoush-sap-jumping-into-a-painting-photo-contest-2012

Everything that used to be normal, and a lot of the things that even felt good, are now just weird. You’re a changed person, be it in a small way or big after all you learned abroad, and your worldview has shifted, quite literally. But everything at home stayed eerily just as you left it – and after your monumental experience, that almost feels wrong.

Welcome to the world of reverse culture shock.

Unfortunately, just as it took time for you to adjust to all the nuances of living abroad, returning to the US requires a certain grace period too. After all, you had to fight to get through normal culture shock to become comfortable there. Maybe, through all that hard work, you even started to like parts of it better than home, and you want them back.

So how do you get through it?

Well, the best place to start is to know that it’s okay. When I first returned from abroad, I felt terrible about how irritable and out-of-place I felt at home. My once thrilling, stunning state of Colorado felt bland: a desert punctuated by boxy, cookie-cutter houses in a sea of corn and loud Americans. Even my bedroom – a castle compared to my itty-bitty bunk bed in London – felt stifling and constricting.

This frustration was made worse by how unappreciative it made me feel. I had just had the best experience of my life so far, and one I knew I was very fortunate to be able to have. I was a more centered, independent and confident person than I’d ever been because of it, but it was hard to feel that way. I’d wake up in the morning, and take my rattly old Taurus to my monotonous job in my boring suburb, and I couldn’t stand it. I’d think about how, just months ago, I would have been flying through the tube bound for some hundred-year-old monument or even just class perched atop a row of posh flats in Kensington, and it made serving noodles all day feel even worse than it did before. I was away from the friends I had made, and the excitement of newness, and I was so unhappy. Worse yet? I was even more unhappy with myself for feeling that way.

Looking back, I wish I had given myself a break.

I made it far, FAR worse by kicking myself for not immediately feeling like the person I’d felt I’d grown into abroad. Even though I was out of my element, all of those things I’d learned and held most dear from across the pond still remained, and it didn’t take away from them just to feel out of place and uncomfortable for a while.

My suggestion to you is to hold those newfound feelings from abroad even closer, and find ways to weave them back into your new-old life back home. Things feel a lot better when you see all the things you gained being brought back with you, and you should feel proud when you use them, even if they’re small, or different than they would have been abroad. 

As an example: I am historically a high-strung, high-stress gal. But, I went abroad and england-london-by-bryce-patterson-st-pauls-cathedral-spring-20141learned quickly that I had to just go with the flow if I wanted things to work out. Being in a totally different country means that things will go wrong, and London showed me that sometimes the most beautiful and precious experiences are the ones that arise from the times when things go awry. While it may not always feel like this will do you as much good at home under the blanket of certainty and routine, that is still a huge part of you. Use it to find peace with the little things that once bothered you. I used to find myself frustrated at really silly things: 22 people ordering mac and cheeses at once, people driving under the speed limit, having a bad hair day. After going abroad, I found it easier to put all these things into perspective: months ago, I was worried about catching a flight back to the US before my visa expired, or having my passport stolen at a pub, or even just navigating a country I didn’t understand. While yes, my hair has managed to stick directly upward today, and refused my attempts at taming it, there are worse things in the world. I have more important things to focus my energy on. (And let’s be real, my hair has been far more crazy.)

Another thing I wish I did differently: allowed myself some time. I worried I’d never again feel as good at a university I’d always loved, or like my best experience was behind me, or just generally that my life back home was enough anymore.

I promise you, right now: that doesn’t last forever.

Even though Folsom Field now feels tiny in comparison to Wembley Stadium, there’s denmark3_amandakruegerreally nothing in the UK close to being an American college student yelling at a football (American football, not soccer) team with your buddies, decked out in gold and black just like old times. And while Pekoe might not be quite as chic as your favorite café in Copenhagen, they’re still the only ones that know how to make your favorite boba just right. And hey, you may totally miss your roommates from your flat in Paris, but try to remember you probably missed your best friend from Boulder even more while you were gone. Having these feelings doesn’t negate the other ones – and it’s cool to be able to feel that strongly about things all over the globe, all at the same time.

You’re readjusting to your old-new culture, and getting used to not being on an extended adventure, and it feels weird. Allow the people and things you love to make that feel a bit better. Talk about your experience and what you learned and love from abroad, but don’t forget to talk about the present too. Eventually, it’ll all start to feel normal again, as you get back to your routine, and even the culture you’d been away from. Focus on the things you’d missed most abroad, and your final round of culture shock will be on its way out the door. At least, that is, until next time.

Photos: James Harmoush, Bryce Patterson, Amanda Krueger

Collecting Memories That Last a Lifetime

by Vanessa Klosterman

It was my Semester at Sea orientation that an alumni added at the end of Q&A, “do something special in each country in order to collect memories, not cheap souvenir items”. Looking back, I am incredibly thankful for her words of wisdom.

The very definition of “souvenir” is a thing that is kept as a reminder of a person, place, or event. Yet, we tend to associate souvenirs with inexpensive trinkets from small tourist shops. Sure, a miniature version of La Sagrada Familia is cool, but does it compare to seeing your parents for the first time since leaving on your abroad journey?
Of course not. When I think of Barcelona, I think of my parents and our incredible six days together. I think of my mom and I getting lost in the gothic district, asking local after local for directions. When I think of Senegal, I remember the village I visited to discuss women’s rights. When I think of living on a ship for four months, I recall the first night’s storm, which prompted ship-wide seasickness. I think about watching the crew talent show, or eating dinner on the deck. I think about how different sunsets look from the middle of the ocean. I may not have SAS stickers, key chains, or water bottles, but I have memories. The very mention of curry sends me into nostalgia as I am reminded of our chef’s consistent use of the spice and the many dinners I spent with fellow img_1186SASers. It’s these memories that will stick with me longer than paraphernalia ever could.

Photographs, stories, and the people I met along my journey are constant reminders of my amazing study abroad experience. Some people photographed their CU flag in each country visited, some individuals covered their suitcases in patches, and some, including myself, carried journals where we could capture our emotions as we felt them and empathize with those feelings later on. There are countless ways to document and remember your journey abroad. Not into traditional journaling? Consider using a service like futureme.org or whensend.com to send a message to yourself long after you return to CU.

I think these types of “souvenirs” are more special to reflect on than a snow globe housing Big Ben, which always turns out to be less exciting than you thought as you forked over ten pounds. I’ve since read back on my journal and I am reminded more than ever before of my incredible international journey.DCIM100GOPROGOPR0040. Memories don’t get lost in boxes, thrown out, or given away. It’s these memories that shape your experience abroad and your life when you return. Even the most disastrous circumstances turn into wonderful memories and these memories become important life lessons.

So take my advice, collect experiences and make memories. I promise you’ll thank me later.

Brazil: Conservation Biology & Practice in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest

Nazare Paulista, Brazil


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Global Seminar Spotlight: Conservation & Indigenous Peoples in Arusha, Tanzania

One of our key goals in international education is to support students in developing long-term connections with host cultures, continuing to build bridges years after the program has ended. For CU students Conner Knickel and Alex Dudley, a summer spent in Tanzania on the Conservation & Indigenous Peoples Global Seminar was the jumping off point for near-continuous involvement in the local communities of northern Tanzania.

Exploring globalization and development and linking these issues to indigenous communities in Tanzania, this program will be running in summer 2017 for the first time since 2013. tanzaniags-by-laura-deluca-student-and-local

Tanzania is the site of the largest wildlife migration on Earth, where nearly a quarter of all land is protected as game reserves, national parks, etc. In a country like this, the interactions between humans and their natural environment are defining political issues. This program invites participants to critically examine competing theories of conservation on-site. Specifically focusing on the interface between local communities (including the Maasai, Iraqw, and Hadzabe) and broader forces of globalization and development, the program allows participants to explore remote areas through culturally-oriented treks that sustainably benefit remote indigenous communities.

Conner Knickel participated in this program in 2013, and he’s been busy in the intervening time. He received his diploma in the mail when he graduated in spring 2015, as he was back in Tanzania at the time. He was working with the Dare Women’s Foundation—a local non-profit that works to empower rural Tanzanian women and girls through initiatives fighting poverty, gender discrimination, and much more. Conner first connected with Dare over the course of the Global Seminar and he continues to participate in their mission remotely even though he’s back in the United States. He has helped refine the foundation’s bylaws, taught basic business principles to women entrepreneurs in Machame, and helped with logistics and fundraising to drill a well in the Kabuku region that currently provides an estimated 3,500 people with clean water.

Fellow Conservation & Indigenous Peoples alumnus Alex Dudley has also continued his involvement in Tanzania. Alex describes his current work as “researching technologies to mitigate human-wildlife conflict outside Arusha National Park so that elephant migratory corridors there can be restored.” gss-tanzania-deluca-1His plans include the reintroduction of black rhinos to the area. Says Alex, “[This program] opened my eyes to the fact that safeguarding rhinos, elephants, and other iconic species cannot rest on biological science alone and must be a holistic process involving and enfranchising local people who live alongside wildlife.” In the future, Alex hopes to return to assist with the creation of an education center highlighting the area’s cultural and natural heritage, with a goal of instilling local pride and ownership of the ecosystem’s assets.

Stories like these are what keep us excited to come to work every day. We are so proud of Conner and Alex, and wish the very best for them both as they continue their involvement in Tanzania.

Picking a Location for Your Semester or Year Abroad

by Bryce Patterson

So, uh… We offer a lot of programs. Like, a bunch. And that can make the first step in going abroad one of the toughest. Maybe you want to intern with a local media organization, or maybe you need CHEM 3000 or you’re trying to find the right level of language immersion or you’re interested in African dance… and you’re not sure where to even start. Don’t panic. We’re here for you. Read on for a helpful guide to picking a program to match a skill-set as devilishly broad as your own!

Click to read more about choosing the perfect program!