The next post in my occasional interview series with fellow travellers who’ve experienced reverse culture shock features a blogger I’ve known online for a few years now, and the thing that really interested me in Jessie’s story is that she left my home country, Australia, and experienced reverse culture shock after study abroad when she returned to the United States.
Jessie’s study abroad experience in Sydney, Australia
During my junior year of college I decided to study abroad in Sydney, Australia. It was my first time going somewhere abroad on my own, and while I was nervous, I was also extremely excited to have a new kind of adventure that wasn’t a Caribbean cruise or USA road trip. I would be spending six months living in Sydney, specifically in an apartment in the funky suburb of Newtown. I remember the excitement of meeting my roommates, all guys from the US and Australia, as well as the other people in my building, classes and the clubs I joined. I got a job at a pizza place so I could experience working abroad, and also interned at a local study abroad publication writing neighborhood guides, which pushed me to constantly be exploring the city. By the time six months was up I was devastated, not because I didn’t enjoy my time in Sydney, but because I didn’t want it to be over.
(Amanda says: I completely relate to that feeling of being devastated to leave a “new home” – I had that feeling in Japan, Slovakia and Germany! Second point: I’m so envious of Jessie’s chance to study abroad. I’m just that little bit older enough that it wasn’t common to study abroad when I went to university – but it is now, and I think it’s fantastic.)
Jessie’s symptoms of reverse culture shock
When I got home from Sydney I was majorly depressed. It was pretty bad. My parents hadn’t seen me in six months and when they picked me up from the airport were so excited to see me. My reaction to their enthusiasm was to basically make it clear I was not happy to be home and was already planning to go back to Sydney. I didn’t want to talk to any of my friends — except for the ones I had met studying abroad — because I didn’t think they would understand how amazing Sydney was or how much I missed it because they hadn’t been there. I just completely shut everyone out and spent a lot of time talking to my Sydney friends, looking at photos and making Sydney scrapbooks.
How Jessie coped with reverse culture shock
Mostly for me it just took time. Back home I was in a sorority and lived in a house with five other girls — none of whom had ever been to Sydney. At first I felt a little out of the loop, as well as almost like THEY were out of the loop of something way more interesting. It was very self-centered, looking back, but something I couldn’t help feeling. As time went on and I assimilated back into my old group of friends, started going to parties, attending dance practices with my college team and spending time with my family, I gradually began enjoying my old life again — although I still kept in close touch with my Sydney friends and do to this day.
(Amanda says: I think it’s natural to be self-centered about it when you return home from abroad – it’s very had not to be. It’s also natural for the people back home, or at least most of them, to be pretty disinterested in something they haven’t personally experienced. I know it took me a few years to really reconnect with my old friends back home.)
What Jessie would do differently to lessen reverse culture shock next time
While I’m all for falling off the grid from awhile, I think it would have helped me tremendously if I had kept in better touch with my family and friends while I was away. I just didn’t want to be bothered. I felt as if I’d found a new life, and my old one wasn’t as important. I was so swept up in my adventure I forgot about all the people who were important to me before I left. When I say keep in touch I don’t mean call everyone on a daily basis, but in trips since that one I’ve taken to writing a weekly email to my close family and friends so they can keep up to date with what’s going on on my trip and I can keep up to date with their lives. This helps once I return home, as there aren’t weeks/months of stories to catch up on.
(Amanda says: this sounds like excellent advice. Back when I first lived abroad email was still just catching on and I went to an internet cafe about once a week to keep in touch with people – but these days, it’s usually much easier and I’m sure if I’d kept in closer touch with my old friends it would have made coming home a bit less stressful.)
Jessica Festa is a travel writer and photographer who loves having lesser-known and culturally immersive experiences around the globe. You can follow her adventures at Jessie on a Journey and Epicure & Culture.