Many student returnees say that readjusting to their home culture is more difficult than it was to initially adjust to their host culture when they were abroad. The process of returning home and readjusting to one’s home culture is commonly referred to as reentry or reverse culture shock. Below Sana Naz, who studied at Whatcom Community College from August 2013 to June 2014, writes about her experience returning to Pakistan and gives great advice about how to deal with the challenges associated with reverse culture shock.
My stay in the US was full of amazing experiences and learning steps. I made new friends from around the world and thoroughly enjoyed my time with them. When I first came to the US, adjustment to an entirely new culture appeared problematic. Language, food, living style, transportation rules, people, and almost everything else seemed intricate and complicated. I still remember my advisor talking about different phases of our stay in the U.S. She was correct in saying that about the time we would become familiar with life in the U.S., it would be time to go back to our home countries.
The mixed feelings of going back home cannot be described unless one actually experiences them. Reverse culture shock affects everyone differently. For me, it was a little more challenging because I belong to and live in a region where women are expected to be dependent on men for almost everything. Women are not expected to speak up in any matter in front of men. After spending ten months of independence in the US I felt terribly helpless upon returning home. I could not go out on my own to buy groceries or apparel. I had to rely on my parents and brothers for any small or big decision such as, where I should work or what I should do in the future. Going out in public with a smile on my face as I had become accustomed to doing in the U.S., is considered a serious immoral act for a female in my country. Balancing and reconciling the woman who left Pakistan 10 months ago with the woman I had now become is proving challenging.
While in the U.S., I worked hard on my English skills. Now, I must work equally hard to maintain the same level of fluency. No one uses English to communicate in Pakistan. At the present time I feel more comfortable talking in English, but if I insist on practicing my language skills with loved ones they may presume I am acting superior or conceited.
Another effect of reverse culture shock has been my digestive system’s reaction to our traditional, home cooked, spicy food. I had longed for such food while in the U.S. but now have had to abstain and slowly reintroduce my stomach to Pakistani cuisine.
Another adjustment has been realizing that necessities such as water, electricity and reliable transportation, all convenient and easily accessible in the US, are not a given in my hometown. I quickly remembered to prioritize my chores according to the availability of electricity and water. This limitation was frustrating.
Fortunately, my family is and has been very supportive. They understand that I am experiencing trouble readjusting to my culture. In most cases, students who come back either look for a job or continue their education. Though I had been diligently looking for a job, I was yet unemployed and increasingly discouraged. I had recently returned from a country where equal opportunity is synonymous with employment. At times I was so irritated that I remained in my room all day staring at pictures taken with friends from across the world. Would I be able to get a job? I soon found myself stressed and depressed. While in the U.S., whenever I was stressed, I would go out for a walk or play the piano. As a female, residing in my country, neither option was possible.
Eventually, after spending days in the same situation, I was able to regroup and recall the helpful tips given to us to handle exactly these types of situations. I started exercising in my room. I tried to keep myself busy doing things that interested me like painting and sketching. To remain fluent in English I started writing blogs and talking to other CCI friends who were in the same boat and experiencing similar language problems. I still follow my family’s decisions but have learned to give my opinion in a way which does not offend them. It creates a win-win situation and I don’t feel so dependent and helpless. My younger brother is very cooperative and understanding. He often takes me out on a drive and understands that it will take time to readjust to my culture.
I have realized if I am not willing to help myself, no one can. It is true that coming back to my own country has been a difficult adjustment. Our families did not change while, we went through the most incredible year of our lives. I do not want friends to say that the U.S. has changed me in a bad way because that would be incorrect. I think communication is a key to every problem. Talking to our families and communicating what we are feeling as we readjust to life at home is essential. Respectful open dialogue invariably helps in finding solutions.
As eager and excited as I was to tell my family and friends about every little detail of the last year, I was very careful not to give the impression of being superior or more educated. Recalling and comparing my U.S. life with my Pakistani life was normal for me but it could prove frustrating for my family and friends. I exercised restraint and did not reminisce too often. I realized talking about my experience at the right time and right place gave happiness and information to everyone with whom I shared. I still share experiences of what life looks like in the US, how people cooperate with each other, things I did, places I visited, etc. but I do this while keeping others’ emotions and interests in mind.
I want to remind all my friends who are in their home countries now, this is not the end! It is a new beginning. Women like me should especially tell and share with their families what they are going through. Even though we live in a male dominated society, we can still talk to our parents and I am sure the majority of parents love their children as mine love me. There is always a solution to every problem if we talk about it. So, let go and make peace with this reverse cultural shock. Step out and explore what is around you. Spend time with friends and family. Do what interests you. Most importantly, talk to your parents and tell them what you are feeling. Keeping oneself motivated and staying connected to other friends also helps. Don’t forget, if you are not willing to help yourself, no one else can help you. Find ways to keep yourself busy, happy, and healthy. That’s how I survived my reverse cultural shock.
The NWCCI program is part of the Community College Initiative, an exchange program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs.