Adjusting to Life Abroad

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Taking part in an education abroad program is a wonderful experience that takes tons of planning and preparation. But one thing that students may overlook is thinking about how transitioning into living abroad will be and how that transition continues when arriving back to the United States. To help explain this, think of the transition as a “W-effect” divided into five different stages:

  • Arrival: This is the peak stage which occurs after arriving to your new host country. Everything that you are seeing and doing is new and exciting so you are enjoying the experience and taking everything in.
  • Culture shock: This is the first dip in the “w” of the transition. This occurs when the excitement from all of your new surroundings wear off and you feel a little homesick. This is because you may notice the differences between this new culture and your own and as a result, you may long for the familiar again.
  • Adaptation: This is the second peak of the “w” and it occurs when you have begun to adjust and feel more comfortable in your new environment. You start to understand the culture better, take part in some of the customs, and gain a sense of belonging.
  • Reverse culture shock: This is the second dip in the “w” and occurs once you have returned back home. A sense of reverse culture shock occurs because you had become so accustomed to living in your host country that things feel foreign to you once you have returned. This can make readjusting to things at home feel a bit difficult.
  • Reintegration: This is the third and final peak, which occurs when you’ve fully adjusted back to living at home in your own culture and you begin to feel closeness with friends and family again.

This is simply an outline of the way your transition could go. Everyone may not experience every stage, stages can be repeated, and each stage lasts for a different amount of time for each person. The key is to understand what could happen so that you can have ways to deal with the stages.

For example, what can help you during the second stage of culture shock and homesickness is to not dwell on these feelings. Don’t stay cooped up in your room thinking about how much you miss home and scrolling through Facebook to see what you are missing by being away. You have the opportunity to experience way more than anyone back home could be doing right now! Also it’s important to say “yes” to new experiences. If someone asks you to go explore town one day, do it! Staying busy and really embracing the differences in your host country will allow you to adjust faster and to enjoy everything more.

Going home can be a challenge as well. You have likely fallen in love with life in your host country and having to adjust back to your old life may seem challenging. People at home will eventually get tired of hearing about all of your adventures abroad and you may start longing to go back. There are ways to deal with that though. One of the most beneficial can be to talk to others who have gone through the same transition. Personally, I talked to the friends I made who were in my program and it helped me a lot. Also you can get involved with others who have the same passion for international experience by doing things such as becoming an Education Abroad Peer Ambassador here at UK. Being around students who you can relate to and share yours stories with helps a lot with the transition back to normal life.

Photo courtesy of Danielle Beam.


Danielle Beam is a junior at the University of Kentucky studying Psychology. Danielle participated in the Celtic Blue program at Arcadia University and National University of Ireland Galway during the 2014-2015 academic year.