The Effects of Coming Home

Elise Elder is a junior who studied abroad in Paris

Studying abroad provides students with the opportunity of cultural enrichment and exposure to a new country.  On the University of Denver’s study abroad site, they state “the best way to understand another culture is to experience it.”

Consequently, many study abroad students feel as if they have changed from their time away. So when they return home, it can be a bit strange for them.  Returnees must re-acclimate themselves to their home life and become accustomed to the norms.  However, along the way, these students may find certain aspects completely different from their life while abroad.

This is something that is called reverse culture shock.

Educational Differences

The moment Elise Elder’s, junior studied abroad in Paris, airplane landed in Charlotte, North Carolina, she went through culture shock.

On Elder’s flight, there were two girls who asked their flight attendant where she was from because of her accent.  The flight attendant replied that she was from Prague.

“But these girls were completely confused.  They had no idea where Prague was… they hadn’t even heard of it.  They just laughed.” Elder said.

She said she was embarrassed by the girls’ ignorance.  As a result, Elder said she pretended that she was Parisian for the rest of the flight.

Elder stated that in Europe, the “education system is better and people are more politically involved.”  She also said she thinks people in America don’t care as much about politics or school.

Rushing Vs. Attentiveness

Clare King, junior studied abroad in Provence, experienced reverse culture shock while she was eating at a restaurant.

“I immediately got service and the waitress kept checking on me and she kept asking me if I needed anything.  It was nice, but then I started to feel rushed” King said.

In France, she was used to slower service and having to catch her waiter’s attention to order or even to get the bill.  King said that it was “kind of nice” to have slower service because she could enjoy her food.

But on the flip side, King said she felt as if the waiters in France were ignoring her.  While the waiters in America are “just being attentive.”

Americans Are More Casual

When Bria Whitmore, junior studied abroad in Salamanca, wore her sweats around the streets of Spain, people would stare at her.  She said she felt like a “hobo” walking around because “everyone dresses up there.”

Despite that fact, she still wore her sweats.

So when Whitmore returned to America, she said “I was happy to be back because I could wear my sweats and Uggs and no one would care.  But it was weird because I was used to everyone else dressing up.”

Bria Whitmore spent the beginning of her junior year in Salamanca

Whitmore said that she did not realize how casual Americans dressed until she came back from Europe.

Americans Are Also Nicer

Elder, King, and Whitmore all agreed that Americans are nicer.  When they returned to America, it was a shock for them to have people smile and be helpful.  King said that the people in America are “much more friendly” and the people in France can be “snooty and inclusive.”

Elder agreed and said “People weren’t smiley in Paris.  A lot of Parisians think that they are better than everyone else, but they still actually like other people.”

She continued and said that the Parisians “want you to think that they aren’t nice” when they really are.  Elder said that a person has to understand the Parisian culture to understand them.

“It also helps when you make an effort to speak their language and not be the stereotypical obnoxious American,” Elder said.

While eating out in Salamanca, Whitmore said that the waiters “were always rude to her and would always charge [her] more.”

When she asked for help, not many people would help her out, Whitmore said.  However the moment she returned to America, she said people “were so helpful.”

“In the airport, people actually helped me out with my bags and made sure everyone knew where they were going for their connector flight or if this was their final destination,” Whitmore said.

Coping With Reverse Culture Shock

Whitmore said that she “consulted with people who were in [her] program” to see how they were adjusting.  She also said the people in her program are “good to talk to” because they are all going through the same situation.

For Elder and King, they relied on their parents to help them adapt back home.

“My parents helped me out a lot when I got back,” King said, “But I thought that I was going to go through more of a reverse culture shock when I got back.  So it wasn’t that bad.”


For more information about reverse culture shock, visit these links: Article– A Peace Corp returnee talks about her experience

DU’s Study Abroad Site– Advice on how to deal with reverse culture shock

ABCNews Article– Discusses how social networks can be the cure

One Response to The Effects of Coming Home

  • Anna Dreiling
    Anna Dreiling says:

    This was a great story. It pulled me in from the start because it’s not something I’d read about or seen before. You covered the topic very well, using the interviews and specific “case studies” to describe the issue overall. I really liked your lead and your syntax. It was easy to read and to understand, and I always appreciate that. My only recommendations come in the form of the multimedia elements: I would suggest that you try not to include simple middle-frame headshots and video. Instead, try off-center or artistically framed photos/video. Overall, though, great job!

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