CULTURE SHOCK

Let’s be honest, coming home is hard, especially if you’ve been abroad for a long time. Regardless of how long you spent overseas, we can guess that just like culture shock, there are going to be a few ups and downs that you go through. Regardless of how many times you’ve travelled, or even if you’ve studied abroad before, each experience is processed differently and you’ll likely go through this each time you come home.   

Stage 1: Euphoria (AKA So Excited to Be Home!) 

Yes!  You’ve probably been thinking about this for a hot minute – what is your first US meal going to be?  OMG fast WiFi!  Your dog is going to be so excited to see you!   

Like when you first arrived in your host country, you should ride this wave of excitement to be home.  You have a lot to catch up on with family and friends, it will be so nice to be back in a country where you speak the language and understand the culture, and to finally be able to stream the new season of Kimmy Schmidt.   

Stage 2: The Crash – Part A (AKA Nobody Cares) 

“OK, so there’s this place in London, in Earl’s Court, called Star Kebab, and I swear it is the best food that I’ve ever had.  Have you heard of a kebab?  It’s like a gyro but like at Star Kebab it’s Indian food and the people there are really nice and another cool thing is that it’s in Earl’s Court which is like boguie, but not bougie like Kensington.  Speaking of Kensington..” 

This is how you will want to describe your study abroad experience – in painstaking detail, making sure that your friends and family know every experience you had, how important they were, and how much you lived like a local.  You’ll want to show them the 5,000 photos that you took, and describe in excruciating detail why each and every one of those photos is important. 

It’s understandable – you’ve had an amazing experience.  But the reality is that your friends and family don’t care.  Well, it’s not that they don’t care – it’s that they probably don’t have a frame of reference, and they likely won’t understand the context in which your experience happened. 

Here’s what a typical conversation would like with your friend.  Let’s call her Tina. 

Tina: “Hey, how was Tanzania” 
You: “Oh, it was so amazing!  We did so many cool things.” 
Tina: “Neat, did you see an elephant?” 
You: “No, actually I visited  a clinic…” 
Tina: “Oh, that’s cool!  Hey, did you hear that Ryan and Sophie broke up?” 

And that’s it.  So, what can do you?   

Stage 2B: The Crash Continued (AKA I guess I’ve changed?) 

For most of us, a study abroad experience has some effect, and for many of us, living in and experiencing another culture is the first time that we’ve had to question our own identity and what it means to be American (or whatever your nationality might be).  We learn that there are things about other parts of the world that we like better, and things about our homes that we love.  There are things about our host countries that we miss, and things we hope we never experience again.   

So, what do you  do? 

Stage 3: Equilibrium (AKA the Reconciliation) 

Just like when you were abroad, you’ll eventually find a way to reconcile your experiences.  Here are some tips on how to do that: 

First, stay in touch with people from your program – after all, you have shared experiences.  You can go to a hotpot restaurant and complain that it just doesn’t compare to hotpot in Beijing, or that a Cuban sandwich in the US just isn’t the same, or that the Guinness in the US just doesn’t taste the same as in Dublin. 

Next, continue to journal.  Reflect back on your entries that you wrote while you were abroad, and continue to write about the feelings and experiences you are having now that you are back in the US, or wherever your call home.   

Seek out others who studied abroad.  Even though they might have studied in different countries, it’s helpful to surround yourself with others who have had similar experiences.  They’ll be equally as interested in hearing your stories as you are in hearing theirs!  

Finally, find ways to get involved on campus or at home.  In most cities, you can find volunteer opportunities to work with international populations locally.  Pitt Study Abroad has workshops and volunteer opportunities that will help you debrief and give you the chance to work with students who are getting ready to go abroad, too!  

What our students say

  • Rachel Mast

    In summer 2015, I participated in the International Internship Program in Berlin, Germany where I interned at an internet-based coffee retailer. Although I loved everything about my internship experience, my favorite memory came from getting to build personal relationships with my co-workers. There were four interns from around the world at my organization, and it was so cool to exchange cultural insights as well as differences in the respective educational programs. We are still connected on social media, and it is pretty cool to have friends from all over the world. Working in the consumer-goods industry, I was able to really see how Americans and Europeans vary in their preferences and response to marketing communications. Overall, the biggest thing I learned was how important it is to understand the target audience when creating products and marketing campaigns. After this experience, I feel much more confident in working for an organization with a global focus.
  • Kelsey Magilton

    Interning for the Sydney Opera House was an experience I will carry with me for the rest of my life. Choosing to participate in an internship was easily the best decision I made when going abroad. I was a marketing intern at the Sydney Opera House. The entire experience is one that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. It was an exciting time to be an intern as I was able to help the team develop new marketing collateral with their recent rebranding efforts. I joined forces with the design department to create brochures and point of sale displays, which are still on display at the Sydney Opera House today. It was especially rewarding to be included in the initial brainstorming stage and assisting the SOH implement a successful re-launch of their brand. The biggest thing I learned was the ability to work with people of different cultures. Sydney is the "New York" of Australia, therefore it is one giant melting pot. I worked with individuals from every... Read more
  • Josh Hammaker

    Studying abroad has helped me in my career in ways I would never have expected. Most notably, studying abroad taught me how to interact with people from different backgrounds and cultures. Since graduating from Pitt, I've been working in a position that involves a decent amount of travel and therefore requires me to interact with individuals from all over the world. Being able to share the adventures and experiences gained from studying abroad was likely one of the deciding factors that set me apart from other candidates for my position. Travelling to and living in another country takes most people out of their comfort zone, but every minute overseas was absolutely worth it.
  • Allie Roos

    When I was a freshman, I sat down with one of my professors to discuss what I expected from my college experience. The first thing out of my mouth was that I wanted to study abroad. Now as a senior, I have been able to study abroad twice, once with a Panther Program (Pitt in Sicily) and again with a Pitt-Recognized Program. It was this program that was suggested to me during that freshman year meeting. The Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies (ICCS) has been the premiere study abroad experience for Classics students since 1965. The "Centristi" (students at the ICCS) come from across the country and live together for a semester in a four story building located in the eternal city, Rome. I knew from the first moment I heard about the program that I needed to be apart of this institution. Not only were the students from various parts of the country, but so were the Professors. The diversity of experience and background within our small group of thirty was a... Read more
  • Emma Huckins

    Through my time in Germany, I gained many professional skills that would be hard to learn just in the classroom in Pittsburgh. Every culture has its own customs and manners when it comes to business, and with business being such an international field, it is important to be knowledgable about cultures in other countries. I was able to get first hand experience of these kinds of differences while I was in Germany working with German university students and through touring corporations throughout my trip. The two weeks abroad lead up to a final group presentation on one of the automobile industries that we studied. Each group consisted of a couple of Pitt Business students, Pitt Engineering students, and University of Augsburg students. So on top of networking with students and professionals in Germany, as a CBA student I was given the opportunity to get to know and work with Swanson Engineering students. Overall, Plus 3 Germany not only expanded my professional network, but also gave... Read more
  • Madeline Wells

    Through the Pitt in Alcalá program and the Franklin Institute at the the Universidad de Alcalá in Alcalá de Henares, Spain, I had the opportunity to shadow a doctor at the local hospital in Alcalá. This experience was by far the most challenging, but also most rewarding. I was paired with a medical student in her third year of residency and had the opportunity to shadow her work for 15 hours. She worked in the rehabilitation department in the emergency room, so we saw lots of patients with muscular or skeletal injuries. I definitely had trouble understanding what the patients and doctors were saying, because they spoke very quickly and used advanced medical terminology. However, by the end of my time shadowing there, I could tell that my Spanish skills, especially my knowledge of medical Spanish, had improved tremendously. I am currently pursuing a degree in Rehabilitation Science and plan on being a physical therapist, and would love to incorporate Spanish into my career plans... Read more
  • Jay Carter

    As an exchange student in Marseille, France, I gained insight into the international business of the European culture and its influence on the global economy. The geographical and cultural diversity of each exchange student enriched course discussions; Chinese, Russian, Mauritian, Italian, Mumbian and Londoner are just a few of the student nationalities. Classroom presentations ranged on topics of ‘ethics, corporate social responsibility, unconscious bias, personal branding, talent marketing and skills management.’ Outside of the classroom, the Interact Team was welcoming and made Marseille enjoyable. The social activities exposed us to a lot of what Marseille had to offer. A few activities included water tubing, hiking the tranquil trails of Les Calanques, scenic tours, shopping and beach activities. The faculty, staff and students of Kedge were extremely accommodating to everyone, ensuring safety and well-being. Currently, I am employed with Luxottica Retail, a multinational... Read more
  • Rachel Vinciguerra

    I spent a little over two months in Haiti this summer conducting a program evaluation for a girls' empowerment program I helped to start there two years prior as well as completing an internship with an emerging foster care agency. This summer marks the first time that I have formally been involved in professional program evaluation. After my experiences in Haiti, I can say that I led two separate program evaluations (one a mid-point evaluation and one to design monitoring and evaluation protocol pre-implementation). Having this experience not only taught me a lot about program evaluation on-the-ground and helped me identify areas I can improve, but it also communicates to others in my field that I am serious about this work. After this summer I have deliverables in the form of a program evaluation report (in two languages) and program monitoring and evaluation guides that I could share with potential employers. This experience has brought me to a new level in my academic and... Read more
  • Nina Kneuer

    I believe that the two skills I learned the most while abroad was independence and adaptation. I've always been someone who is very independent, but when you're thrown into a country where you've never lived before and you're suddenly there, without family or friends, living with new people and new friends, it can be quite a culture shock, and can really test your true independence. I learned very quickly how to make real friends and how to become comfortable with my new surroundings. I also believe that having friends in this program really helped my independence grow while I was abroad, because with friends you go out and travel, like you wouldn't otherwise do by yourself. Hence, going out to pubs for a social night out with friends and booking last minute plane tickets to a weekend in Belgium, became a usual, fun, comforting, and independent thing for me to do. Adaptation comes along with independence in the sense that you are thrown into something you do... Read more