What to do when you’re back from abroad and just can’t fit in

When you’re coming back home from an exchange semester filled with new experiences, you might feel that you’re utterly out of your element. Even though you’re back in your comfort zone, the feeling of not fitting in back home is fairly common. But don’t worry, you’re not alone!

So, how do you know you’re going through reverse culture shock? Here are 5 signs you have to be aware of and tips on how you can overcome them.

Reverse culture shock - nature - banner
Do you feel out of place? No worries, you’re not alone!

1. “You can’t stop thinking about the country you left behind” – Solution: Attend cultural events

The grass is always greener on the other side, right? That favorite local restaurant of yours. That neighboring guy who always greeted you in the mornings. Those scents you started to get used to and many more examples are now things you are missing. The first months back home are the hardest, because you are constantly thinking of those sweet daily routine habits you went through during your semester abroad. It takes the mental strength of a monk to not book a return ticket to that special place, which is now only pictures in your mind (and on your smartphone). 

semester abroad - missing - hard - alone
The first months back home are the hardest, because you’re constantly thinking of those glory days abroad.

What to do: The best way to get a dose of the place you are missing is to attend cultural events. Do your research and see if there are any upcoming events that have something to do with the country you’re missing. It could be cooking classes, language courses or whatever.

It’s hard to describe how it feels being so “at home” in somewhere that started so foreign. New cultures, places and people influence and shape us. Today so many of us come from all over the world, and live in numerous locations during our lifetimes, rightly calling each one of them home. So, is it really a wonder if you miss your “second home”?

– Katariina, Engagement Specialist 

2. “You realize that nothing has changed” – Solution: Build relationships with like-minded people

When you’re abroad you might think of what people are doing back home. You often start to get curious about what you’re missing out. You see your friends upload Instagram photos or Snapchat stories of great nights out. Suddenly, you start to feel left out and that homesickness you somehow managed to avoid before starts to creep up on you.

BUT! This is the weird part. When you’re finally back home, you realize nothing has changed. Everything is exactly the same as it was when you left. Those epic nights out on your friend’s Snapchat stories are nothing new to you. You’ve done it before! You realize you have changed but your friends have not. Suddenly you feel quite alone in the place you once called home.

alone - semester abroad - asia - exchange semester
You realize nothing has changed back home and suddenly you feel quite alone.

What to do: the best way to overcome this is to find new friends who have experienced similar things as you have. Don’t abandon your old loved ones, of course, unless it’s clear that the friendship is not the same anymore and you’re no longer on the wavelength (see point 5 below). Finding a new path in an old place is hard but just give it some time. Building up new relationships with like-minded people does not happen overnight.

Be in touch with your exchange buddies. They probably feel the same way too. Organize Skype-meeting on Friday when everyone is free and share an online moment with a drink – or something similar. Broadcast a funny video in the Whatsapp group where you tell your exchange friends how much you miss them. Organize a “comeback-party” for your old friends at home and let them know that you are back!

– Nina, Engagement Specialist

3. “You’re moody and easily irritated” – Solution: Channel your feelings

If you find yourself wondering “wait, why am I constantly frustrated about how things work around me?”. Well, this is another sign of a major reverse culture shock! You start questioning everything around you. People do not greet me on the streets. People are so stressed. Bars are closing way too early. WHY? These are just a few examples that might start to irritate you and make you doubt whether you belong here or not.

frustrated - angry - alone
You’re frustrated how everything works around you and that makes you doubt whether you belong here or not.

What to do: Find ways to channel your feelings! Writing down your thoughts in a journal or start blogging is one of the best ways to find balance in your daily life back home.

Compare the places and think of the positive aspects of both. Bring out the nice, smooth and functional processes you experienced while in exchange and try to make them part of your life in your home country. Or leave the country again!

– Nina, Engagement Specialist

4. “You’re extremely bored” – Solution: Find new hobbies

Traveling requires a lot of energy because you are experiencing so many new things. Your brain gets filled with new impressions every day. Even though it might be tiring, it still works like a drug. You want more! The kicks you get from learning new things every day makes it understandable why you feel extremely bored when you’re back home. As there’s nothing new to discover in your hometown, you will feel the urge to just leave.

bored - culture shock - accept
You start feeling bored because there’s nothing new to discover back home. You feel the urge to just leave!

What to do: Find new hobbies! Take on new challenges to get rid of the boredom within you. Pick up a new instrument or start doing yoga. Find something that is extremely challenging and become a master of it. In that way, you will keep your mind away from negative thoughts!

I lived in the dormitory with other exchange students, and you kind of get easily used to the fact that you always have company around if you don’t want to be alone. When I came back home I realized that I just cannot go to knock my friends’ door in my pajamas at 10:30 pm. I also noticed that my friends had other obligations and responsibilities as well: they were busy with their studies or hobbies, they worked on the side and so on. They rarely had time to do anything without planning it days before – all the surprise was gone and I started to miss the lack of stress that came from having so few responsibilities abroad.

– Katariina, Engagement Specialist 

5. “You can’t relate to your old friends anymore” – Solution: Accept that you have changed

As an experienced expat, you’ll notice that the relationships between you and your friends have changed. It’s because your priorities in life have shifted thanks to your travels. You feel out of place and this can result in misunderstandings and irritations with your pals. The people around you simply don’t understand you in the same way they once did.

relationship - change -
You’ve changed and you feel out of place. The people around you simply don’t understand you as they once did.

What to do: The sad part is that some friendships will simply not be the same anymore and you just have to accept it. If this is the case, realize that you’re just not the same person anymore and build new relationships that more closely match who you’ve become.

My family and friends didn’t realize how much living abroad had affected me. Before my semester abroad I had been trying to find the answer to the very essential question “Who am I?”. During my exchange, I finally discovered the last foundation pillar of the basis what makes me ME. And now when I had found the core sense of myself, nobody seemed to understand that nor care about that.

– Katariina, Engagement Specialist 

Want more tips for life after study abroad? See our page for students who have returned from studying abroad here.

Asia Exchange is a Finnish company providing study abroad opportunities in Asia Pacific for students from all around the world. Want to get travel tips and new blog posts straight to your inbox? Subscribe to our monthly newsletter! If you have any questions about studying abroad, feel free to contact us! We’ll get back to you.

This article was written by our marketing coordinator Fabian!

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