After living abroad for a while, you will probably start noticing cultural differences that go beyond the music everyone listens to, the architecture, customs of society or the typical food. These differences may be associated with values or unspoken rules.
During this period, you may experience feelings of loneliness, anxiety, anger, or even contradictory feelings towards your host country. This phenomenon is not uncommon, and it has even been studied worldwide. It goes by the name of “culture shock”.
During your exchange program, you will learn a lot about yourself, and what your own country means to you. Therefore, it is normal to feel identified with people who share the same nationality as you and talk through your shared experience.
There is no “right” way to go through this adaptation process, and no way to predict your reaction towards the new culture. You may start to question your own set of values and rules, and adopt the ones from the country receiving you. On the other hand, you may reject them, or even blend them with your own. It is important that you know that experiencing “culture shock” is normal and possible to overcome. In the end, the adaptation process will allow you to gain interpersonal abilities, independence and self-confidence.
- Seek the company of people you trust and avoid social isolation.
- Share your feelings aloud. It often helps to express your positive or negative feelings. That way you will get it off your chest, and another person’s understanding may make you feel better.
- Set yourself goals throughout your stay in Uruguay.
- Keep in touch with your family and friends at home, but try to get the most out of your time in Uruguay. You'll probably miss certain things once you return home.
- Start doing activities you enjoy, especially exercise, cooking, being creative.
- Remember that being out of your comfort zone can help you learn and grow.
- Reduce screen time. Connecting to nature can be helpful to overcome stress.
- Remember to take care of yourself. Eat and stay hydrated, get sleep.
- Ask for support at the International Office, we have experience in helping students in your situation.
Reverse Culture Shock
“Reverse culture shock” is what you are likely to feel when you return to your home country. It can be compared with a small-scale grieving period, in which someone tries to stay connected to an experience that is already in the past.
Even though coming back to your country means returning to what you know and what you are used to, you will probably notice that you have changed since you left.
Having an experience abroad is a challenge. Sometimes it is a relief to be back in your old comfort zone, but surely you will see things from a different perspective and need to adapt to the changes that occurred while you were abroad.
At times, you may find yourself with the inability to share your experiences with your family and friends. And after a while, it is possible that their interest in your stories is no match for your eagerness to narrate them over and over again, and at these times you may feel out of place.
While it is easy to boast about the benefits of study abroad, in reality the growth process continues long after your return. You may have expectations about personal changes and acquired skills that you believe you should have right away, but it may not be immediately apparent how your new skills and experiences can be applied in practical ways. For a while, you may feel sad or angry that the experience is over, but eventually things will fall into place.
One way to transform your experience into something productive is to share it with others. There are many people who could benefit from hearing about your experience, such as other students who are considering spending a semester abroad, and probably share many of the same insecurities you felt before.
If you are interested in sharing what you have learned, you could talk to the international department at your home university or become a volunteer in an organization that works with cultural exchanges. There may be students from Uruguay in those programs, which could be a great opportunity for you to show them how people live in your country, while staying connected with your host country.