Reverse culture shock, re-entry shock, re-whatever-you-want-to-call-it-shock. I'm sure if you have studied abroad, are planning to study abroad, or are currently abroad, you have heard of it in some form or another.
Trust me when I tell you it's as hard as they say it will be. For me, reverse culture shock has taken a lot more adjusting than initial culture shock.
Reverse culture shock happens when you romanticize home and expect to return to total familiarity and comfort. Well I'm sorry to tell you that people back home have been living too. Things won't just pick up where they left off. People didn't just drop what they were doing for six months while you were gone. They've done big things, had life-changing events, and formed a schedule that didn't include you.
These are things you don't really take time to consider before returning home. You're too excited at the idea of seeing your much loved and much missed friends and family.
Some of the biggest shocks and difficulties of re-entry for me have been the following:
1.) All your friends have moved on and figured out a life where their schedules did not include you. Those habits are hard to break and it can be awkward trying to get back in the swing of things without feeling like you're forcing yourself on people. Take a deep breath and remember you left them behind for a different country with different people. Things will work out if you give it time.
2.) All you want to do is talk about Chile, India, New Zealand, Africa, (fill in the blank), or wherever you just were, and your friends are so sick of you they have seriously considered sitting you down for an intervention. It's challenging not to constantly talk about where you have been for the past six months of your life, but try to remember that it can be hard for others to relate.
3.) You don't recognize half the faces at your school. All you can think is, "Do you even go here?" while everyone else is thinking the same thing about you.
4.) You have to meet people all over again. As if you haven't done enough of that already (as in freshmen year and when you moved to a WHOLE NEW COUNTRY).
5.) There are so many awkward hellos and reunions that, besides your closest friends, you forget whom you have already said hi to. And for those of us that go to small schools, you feel the urge to say hi to people you know of, but don't actually know. That gets all kinds of awkward.
6.) When people ask how your semester was, you never know how to answer. How could you possibly sum up months of adventure, forming new friendships, facing the unknown, and realizing the world doesn't revolve around the U.S.A? So instead you just say "Good," and smile.
7.) You're very, very sad because you want to go back and keep experiencing new and exciting things. You're itching to travel the world again because of a little something you caught while overseas--the brilliant disease of wanderlust.
And yet it really is good to be back despite all of these things.
For one, you've formed a sense of camaraderie with all the other students who have studied abroad. While your experiences might not have been the same, you have been through the same shock of leaving home, experiencing a new country, and then returning, all in a very short amount of time. You've found new friends to talk to about your experiences and how weird it feels to be back.
You're a little older and a little wiser, and hopefully you now realize how accessible and wonderful the world is. You appreciate the beauty of your own backyard a little more. Sunsets catch your eye more often. You've realized whom you have missed while gone and you realize who your really good friends are when you finally catch up and it feels like you never left. Hopefully you don't let the little things bother you anymore because you know things have a tendency of working out.
Ultimately you're glad to be back because you knew you couldn't stay forever.