Reverse culture shock strikes

Matt Kuhns

Editor’s note: This is the last part in a three-part series about students’ experiences with Iowa State’s study abroad program.

Upon returning to their homeland from an enjoyable time spent in a foreign host country, students who study abroad often find themselves in a stressful spiral of reverse culture shock.

Trevor Nelson, coordinator for the Study Abroad Center at Iowa State, said most students who study in foreign countries have readied themselves for a new cultural experience when they arrive abroad but “don’t expect a period of readjustment” when they return home.

Though Nelson said reverse culture shock is often the harshest for students returning from developing nations because of great cultural differences, the shock manifests itself in all who participate in the study abroad program.

“This process is universal,” Nelson said.

Maggie Schroeder, senior in civil engineering, spent a semester last school year at the University of Newcastle in Australia.

She said though Australia’s culture was similar to the United States’, she considered homecoming a “rough” pill to swallow.

“I didn’t want to come back,” she said.

Though Schroeder said she was glad to see family and friends on her arrival home, leaving the new friends she had made in Australia was taxing.

Schroeder said she discovered she had changed quite a bit more than her friends and family had.

She said it took three or four months before she felt completely readjusted.

Another difficult adjustment for Schroeder to make was that she no longer had any “special” status as someone from another culture.

“I enjoyed being the foreigner,” she said.

Court Padgitt, senior in transportation logistics, has been to Russia four times. His first trip to the country was in 1994, when he was a senior in high school.

As he re-entered the the country he had left six weeks before, Padgitt experienced the effects of reverse culture shock.

“My whole body clock was set to a different time,” Padgitt said.

He also picked up the habits of drinking tea and using his feet as transportation during his stint in Moscow, two practices he brought back to the United States.

“I insisted on walking — mainly because I walked everywhere in Moscow,” Padgitt said. “I got over that quick though,” he joked.

To become reacclimated to American culture quickly, Padgitt suggested those planning to go abroad be ready to “find somebody else who has been through it to talk to” after returning home — someone willing to listen.

Jeff Hansen, sophomore in international business, also spent six weeks last summer in Moscow.

When he returned to his hometown of Urbandale, he was a slightly different person.

“I came back a very humble person because over there we didn’t have hot water or a microwave,” he said.

Hansen said he came back with a strong sense of the simple conveniences and amenities afforded to most U.S. citizens.

Hansen said he took the words “be grateful for what you have” to heart and noticed that members of his family were using comparatively much larger amounts of energy and water.

Over spring break, Hansen will make his way to Spain, but he’s not expecting to experience reverse culture shock.

He said the culture of Western Europe closely parallels that of the United States.

“Our culture is that of Western Europe,” Hansen said.

Nelson said students should take into account the breadth of change they are likely to experience when studying abroad.

“You don’t realize how you’ve changed,” Nelson said.