Reverse Culture Shock/ A Post-Study Abroad Identity Crisis

I have been rooted and uprooted from three cultures in three years, and I think I am suffering from some intense “reverse culture shock.” Okay, I know this sounds very dramatic, but that’s basically what happened. Some might be unaware of this term, but it’s something a lot of international students or students who have studied abroad are familiar with.

The way I see it, “reverser culture shock” refers to the process and the struggle of adjusting back into an environment that used to be your comfort zone. It’s almost like pushing the reset button, just like when you immerse yourself into and get accustomed to a new environment. In this post I will touch upon my Study Abroad experience, and my re-adjustment into Clark life.

A little background: I am an international student from India. It took me a good 2 years to get used to the Clark way of life, though I think I am still getting used to America. I was dropped into this place that was, at first, sort of a dreamland for me. I could do anything I wanted, wear what I want, come home when I want. If you have a slight connection with South Asia, you know what I am talking about. But this honeymoon period ended real soon, and I realized everything in this country was different from home. From words to personal interactions, from family dynamics to friendships, everything had changed for me and it wasn’t the most pleasant feeling.

After two years of introspecting and navigating, I finally felt like I belonged to this place. Then before I knew it, I was leaving for London to study abroad for a year. As I moved countries and cultures, I found myself in the same position once again. I was in a completely different and an absolutely massive city, I knew no one, and I had to start from scratch. Theoretical definitions don’t do justice to a student’s transition period into a new culture. It is a very individualized experience. Some adapt fast, and some take their time.

London — this was the third completely different culture that I was exposed to. The English language was the same, but its usage was worlds apart. For one, pants were called trousers, and pants meant something completely different. And might I say that this difference got me into some not-so-pleasant situations. Jokes apart, I had the best time in London. I would love to go into details, but that might take up the rest of my day and make me tear up and hog on a bucket of Ben & Jerry’s.

With the Indian flag. London School of Economics
With the Indian flag. London School of Economics.

The real struggle started when I came back from London and had to go back to Clark for senior year. At first, I was really excited; I was about to meet all my friends after the longest time. There was a slight issue, though. I had changed. My opinions, my style, my personality were not the same as before. I was afraid of not being able to fit in like I did before. I had gotten used to a different education system and social setting. I was no longer used to being in a small campus with a small and close-knit student body, seeing and hanging out with the same people everyday. I felt like a first year student again. I had to think twice before I spoke, because I didn’t want to offend people. I lost connection with a few people, and I couldn’t seem to reconnect with them.

I thought I was at fault. Maybe I was being a show-off or I was not being mindful. I had this whole trip down the guilt lane where I thought I should have made a better effort to keep in contact with everyone. I just didn’t feel at home. Then I went to the study abroad ambassadors meeting with other students who studied abroad. That’s when I realized that I was not alone; most students were going through the same thing: reverse culture shock. That was a comforting experience for me.

I strongly believe in the fact that every experience, little or big, changes you. My year in London helped me immensely with personal growth and realization. I learnt to be independent, taking moral and financial responsibility. And yes, I lost a few things and people on the way, but it’s okay. My advice to anyone going through this experience would be to stand your ground. If you believe in the person you have become, then people and connections that are worth it will still be around. It’s week 5 of classes and while I’m glad to be back, nothing can replace the late night London strolls.

– Radhika 


1 Comment

  1. You have been to lse? Wow !
    That is what most of the students interested in economics aspire for. Would you mind my asking how was it?

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