Junior Speaks: Shook by reverse culture shock

headshot_gianluca_WEBThere are some things about studying abroad that people only understand if they’ve done it themselves. Something we don’t acknowledge as often about our experience abroad is what happens when we get back to the U.S. — and it doesn’t take long to discover that reverse culture shock is real. There is so much hype around leaving and wondering what the semester has in store, but what about getting back to home?

“Reverse culture shock is quite common, because you were striving to acclimate to a new culture, and you make all of these great changes to who you are in order to fit into a culture,” said Sara Young-Singh, the director of the Center for International Education. “But then, you come back to your old culture, where you’re a new you but you have to fit a ‘previous you’ mold.” Whether it was the chance to see a new city or country, or even just the commute to school on the local metro line or a free half-hour spent in a local cafe, there was always a new adventure when I lived in Italy. But then I came home, and things went static for a while. I found myself craving adventures, but feeling bound to the suburbs. I wanted to see my friends, but I feared feeling disconnected from my social circles after being away so long. And there I was, driving to the same supermarket like I was five months ago, feeling more lost in my hometown than I ever had in Europe. I’d had this amazing experience and I knew I had changed, but how do I even begin to articulate that to others?

Reverse culture shock consists of many invisible symptoms — boredom, having a hard time describing your experience, reverse homesickness, and an overwhelming feeling of disconnection. Not everyone can sympathize — after all, you probably told everyone that you had the best time of your life, so why would it make sense to be sad?

Senior psychology major Aliyah Veltz, who studied abroad at John Cabot University of Rome, said readjusting to life at Rider has its difficulties.

“It’s weird knowing that I’m not in Italy anymore,” she said. “I love being with my friends and favorite professors and finishing my college career at Rider. But it’s just weird that I can’t walk down the street and get a cornetto as I people-watch, or that I can’t hear the tram go by as I walk to class.”

Perhaps the hardest part of traveling is coming back feeling like you changed, but then getting into the same old routine and starting to believe you didn’t. My friends had been going through life changes. Someone graduated, someone got a boyfriend, someone landed a high-profile internship. What had I done? I had such a hard time describing what my semester abroad was like that for a while I had tricked myself into thinking nothing in me had really changed after all.

“People who weren’t there to experience it with you may be a little lost, because they can’t join you when you’re reflecting on the time you had abroad,” Young-Singh said. “Their reaction to the ‘new you’ might not always be what you expect.”

Maybe this is how people get “the travel bug.” After you travel for the first time, you learn more about yourself — you lose some bad habits, learn a new language, figure out how much you can trust people — and not everybody knows what it’s like to experience all of these things at the same time, and then try to stay true to that person you’ve become when you get home. Maybe that’s why I feel so drawn to leave home again soon.

— Gianluca D’Elia

Junior journalism major

 

Printed in the 2/1/17 issue. 

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