This is a blog for all those OSU students out there who are just getting back from studying abroad, hope to someday study abroad or are just interested in the way we as humans make psychological adjustments in regards to travelling and cultural identity. For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Alison Blazer and I’m currently a 3rd year undergraduate majoring in Speech Communication with a minor in Spanish and pursuing the International Degree here at Oregon State. During this past Fall term, I participated in Oregon State’s Chillán Spanish program. This program allows students to complete the entire second year of Spanish language credit in just three months! For those of you looking to finish up your language requirement, it’s an easy and efficient way to accomplish that. Personally, I participated in the program because studying abroad has always been a goal of mine and this program facilitates a great experience abroad while also allowing students to come back with 16 or 19 credits completed. If you have any questions about the program feel free to contact the program director Lucia Robelo or myself. We’re both happy to answer any of your questions!
That being said, this blog is not about my program, but rather what study/travel abroad experts refer to as my “re-entry” into the United States. All Oregon State students that participate in an approved study abroad program have to complete a tutorial with questions relating to your preparedness both in terms of paperwork and on a psychological level before leaving the U.S. My particular program included a mandatory 1 credit class the Spring before departure in which we discussed everything from what to pack to how to acclimate to Chilean culture upon arrival. Culture shock, as I’m sure many of you know, can set you on an emotional roller coaster. Everyone experiences it to a different degree with things such as travel history, family history, poverty levels in destination country, time away, age etc. all playing a role.
Culture shock is essentially the transition you undergo when you arrive in a foreign country. Many times, it can be overwhelming, but it is also common for certain individuals to not even notice any culture shock. When I left for Chile in early September I was emotionally prepared to be away from my friends, family and home and embark on a new adventure. Having an open mind and positive attitude helped me to almost entirely avoid feeling any culture shock, but what I was not prepared for was my return. Everyone in my group flew back to the U.S. throughout the month of December. I myself flew home to California just 3 days before Christmas.
At first, I was mostly just experiencing exhaustion and excitement- a tough combo! I was endlessly tired from my three weeks of travel across Peru, but I was so incredibly happy to be back in my hometown safe and sound with my family. The comfort and bliss of being home lasted for a mere 10 days before I had to head up to Corvallis to set up my new house and get ready for the start of a new term. Seeing all of my Oregon friends, decorating a new house and getting re-acquainted with my second home helped to yet again postpone my re-entry side effects. It wasn’t until about Week 2 of Winter term that I really started to experience the reverse culture shock that people had told me about. Suddenly, all of my classes seemed to bury me in work and even my Spanish classes seemed hard just because they were such a time commitment! I began wishing I was back in the carefree world of studying abroad (for those of you who have been there- you know what I’m talking about, and for those of you who have yet to go- be excited!).
Reverse culture shock, just to be clear, isn’t necessarily similar to the shock you receive when visiting a foreign country for the first time. Rather than being unfamiliar with your surroundings, reverse culture shock is what people experience when they’re suddenly surrounded by everything they knew before they had their experience abroad. As I’m sure you’ve heard before, studying abroad is a life changing experience for many people. For me, it was my first time travelling long distances or long term without my family, and it exposed me to a new culture, new people and a new me. This is the key—the person you are before you study abroad is often not the same as the person you are once you return. I’m not saying that you’ll feel unhappy in your life as you left it, but you will feel a change, whether it be big or small! Take for example, one small aspect of my re-entry. I have a very close relationship to my mother and call her several times a week. While in Chile I had to communicate with her (and everyone back home) via Skype. I have been in the U.S. for almost 2 full months now and I still frequently forget that I can pick up my cell phone and call my mom! The simplest things make you realize how used to being away you may have gotten.
I never imagined that I would experience more of a challenging psychological process upon my return to the States than when I initially went abroad to Chile. I’m confident that the vast majority of students in my Chillán group have all experienced stronger reverse culture shock than culture shock. Adjusting back to the demanding and fast paced schedule of Winter term, while also returning to work, rejoining friend groups etc. are all challenging aspects of post-study abroad life. The best thing that you can do for yourself, or any of your friends that are experiencing reverse culture shock is to talk about it! Any difficult life transition can be helped by conversation. Talking about the adjustment with friends, family or even an advisor, professor or CAPS (Counseling & Psychological Services) employee can’t hurt!
Every day that I’m in Corvallis life seems to adjust back to “normal” a bit more. Another key thing to remember is that there are good days and there are bad- this isn’t a negative thing! People who have never left the states have bad and good days, you used to before you studied abroad, but now they’re just bad days because you feel out of place here or miss being there. Either way, keep your head up and remember that what you experienced abroad was worthwhile and work towards using that experience to better yourself each day!