Re-Entry Shock

Re-Entry Shock chart

What is Re-Entry Shock?

You may be prepared for culture shock when you leave Wooster, but coming back to your family, friends, and the College is often just as difficult – if not more- as your departure. This is normal, and even positive, because it means that you experience had a lasting effect on you. Like the initial sense of uncertainty you may experience at your site, a feeling of alienation upon your return is perfectly natural.  Whether you realize it or not, you have most likely changed, and just as you have changed, home may have changed also.  All of this can affect your comfort level with the environment at Wooster, the way you interact with other people, and even your academic progress.  Don’t hesitate to seek help either with a counselor, by making an appointment with the Director of Off-Campus Studies, or through reintegration events.

You will no doubt have to make a number of adjustments when you return home and to campus, just as you did when you left. These changes can be cultural, social, linguistic, or academic. They might include boredom, reverse homesickness, a feeling of inability to explain how you feel or that relationships have changed, feelings of alienation or a loss of your experience.  It is up to you to recognize these challenges, interpret them positively and use your experience for your continued academic, cultural and personal growth.

Stages of Re-Entry Shock

Stage 1: Disengagement

This stage begins before you leave your host country. You begin thinking about re–entry and making your preparations for your return home. You also begin to realize that it's time to say good–bye to your friends in the country of your choice and to the place you've come to call home. The hustle and bustle of finals, good–bye parties, and packing can intensify your feelings of sadness and frustration. You already miss the friends you've made, and you are reluctant to leave. Or, you may make your last few days fly by so fast that you don't have time to reflect on your emotions and experiences.

Stage 2: Euphoria

This stage is characterized by feelings of excitement and anticipation – even euphoria – about returning home. This is very similar to the initial feelings of fascination and excitement you may have when you first entered the country of your choice. You may be very happy to see your family and friends again, and they are also happy to see you. The length of this stage varies, and often ends with the realization that most people are not as interested in your experiences in the country of your choice as you had hoped. They will politely listen to your stories for a while, but you may find that soon they are ready to move on to the next topic of conversation.

Stage 3: Alientation and Irritability

You may experience feelings of frustration, anger, alienation, loneliness, disorientation, and helplessness and not understand exactly why in this stage. You might quickly become irritated or critical of others and of U.S. culture. Depression, feeling like a stranger at home, and the longing to go back abroad are also not uncommon reactions. You may also feel less independent than you were in the country of your choice.

Stage 4: Readjustment and Adaptation

Things will start to seem a little more normal again, and you will probably fall back into some old routines, but things won't be exactly the same as how you left them. You have most likely developed new attitudes, beliefs, habits, as well as personal and professional goals, and you will see things differently now. The important thing is to try to incorporate the positive aspects of your international experience in the country of your choice with the positive aspects of your life at home in the United States.

Check out Reverse Culture Shock from StudentsAbroad.com for more information and resources

Symptoms of Re-Entry Shock

  • Vague disoriented or frustrated feeling
  • Boredom and insecurity
  • Disdain for all things American
  • Feelings of alienation and withdrawal
  • Need for excessive sleep
  • Communication seems difficult
  • You find it difficult to explain things coherently
  • Others don’t seem to understand you
  • You feel resistant to family and friends
  • It’s hard to relate to others, or find common ground with them
  • All you can think about is going back

Tips for Dealing with Re-Entry Shock

  • Reflect on how you have changed and changes that are going to occur in your life back home and at Wooster
  • Maintain a sense of patience and humor, similar to when you initially went overseas
  • Give yourself time to adapt: expect to have highs and low and be patient with yourself
  • Maintain healthy diet and exercise
  • Be patient with friends and family, and know that they might not want to talk about your experiences as much as you do
  • Be creative and find an outlet for your feelings: journal, write a story, cook, make a photo album or scrapbook, give a talk at your local library, etc
  • Visit elementary/middle/high schools to speak about your experience
  • Seek out international news so you don’t feel so abruptly cut off from you experience
  • Meet and help with international students on campus
  • Speak with students who are considering studying abroad and advise them from you experience
  • Keep in touch with the friends you made during your time off-campus

Remember: The College of Wooster and OCS can help with re-entry.