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The fall 2021 cohort of UC’s Education Abroad Program (UCEAP) was the first to go overseas since March 2020, nearly two years ago. Returning from study abroad can lead to a feeling of back-to-school shock. According to UC Santa Barbara UCEAP, 85% of people returning from abroad have some kind of difficulty returning, which can range from restlessness, boredom, and feeling misunderstood.
To learn more about the reverse culture shock that comes with returning from a trip abroad, The Bottom Line (TBL) spoke to Vanessa Luu, Veronica Vo and Ankita Pattnaik, three study abroad students who have studied in South Korea for four and a half years. months, to discuss their experience and reflect on their reintegration on campus.
Reverse culture shock is similar to culture shock, except it deals with the transition back to your home country. Upon your return, were there any things that surprised or even caught you off guard?
LV: “I think I just had to remember that people aren’t that trustworthy here, so I can’t just let my [belongings] outside. Like going to the bathroom at Starbucks without worrying that my laptop is gone when I get back. Because most [of the people in Korea] would just leave the laptops out for an hour, leave, then come back […]”
PA: “I can’t even say that reverse culture shock even happened to me, because when I went to Korea, I was just in culture shock! So when I came back, everything was back to normal. Especially for me in Korea, I really felt like a foreigner. You were sometimes mistaken for Koreans, but I was always treated like a foreigner, so everything was always new to me. And I never understood what was going on. So when I came back here, I didn’t really have strong emotions. I was like, ‘Oh, everything’s back to normal now’ because in Korea I was constantly on my toes.
Do you think any factors, like not learning the language, affected your culture shock?
PA: “Yes, because when I walked in I really expected more people to know English. But that’s my closed-mindedness. I feel like the “shock” is some kind of [a negative term]. It wasn’t really shocking, I just had to learn the language, which I didn’t expect. i can’t blame [locals] not to know the [English] language, because I am the one visiting their country.
What was more difficult, the transition to Korea or the return from Korea?
LV: “[My friends say], ‘Oh my God, you’re back, how was your trip?’ They are excited to see me after six months and see how I have changed. I’m like, ‘Yeah, I missed you too…’ I wouldn’t say I’m not happy to be back. But there’s not much to do here [in the U.S.]. In Korea, there were so many options. You know I felt like I was wasting my time sitting inside [in Korea]. Here I don’t want to go out. *laughs* Like there’s nothing to entice you to be out. Over there in Korea, I was [thinking that I was] feeling homesick. My family, my friends, my parents tell me: ‘Oh, I miss you!’. I felt a little guilty. Do I really miss being home? I was having a good time. So I [realized] I don’t really miss home or the idea of being home.
VV: “Also, nothing has changed at home, but everything has changed for us. There is the social aspect [too] because when you’re in Korea, you just jump around to do everything. And everyone [asking others], ‘Do you want to come here ? Does anyone want to come here? Home is like ‘Who wants to go to State Street […]?’ Person. There is no pressure to meet new people. You spend the same time with the same people every day.
What are the latest thoughts coming back from Korea? Thoughts on Korea’s transition to the United States?
PA: “I would do [study abroad] again but not in Korea.
LV: “I have to readapt to life here. Also, my social battery is really drained. In Korea, I went out with people all the time and had to meet new people all the time. So I’m not really in the mood to do that here. I also think that having to readapt not to do something extra every day [academic] to work. For me, at least, the lessons there were much easier. Having to rehabilitate myself to read 100 pages a week and deepen my knowledge […] leave me alone! I feel like [now] my social life is so much slower. I focus a lot more on school, but I wish it were reversed.