Dealing With Reverse Culture Shock and Burnout

After studying abroad, and really after I come back from an international trip, I suffer terrible reverse culture shock which usually results in a mental burnout. Before medication and therapy, these burnouts could last weeks or even months. It was so bad that I burst into tears landing at JFK airport because I saw a golf course. No one back in the United States really seemed to get how I felt, and telling stories about my international adventures only made me feel worse.

I may be wrong, but I feel like people who suffer from good old regular culture shock when traveling to a country have it easier. You either stick it out in the new country, or you go home. Reverse cultural shock likes to creep out unexpectedly and at the worst moments. Like almost having a panic attack in the middle of a Bath and Body Works while Christmas shopping at a mall. Whenever I travel internationally, even if it’s for a short period of time, reverse culture shock sets in as soon as I land back in the United States. Places abroad feel so much like home, more than other living situations I was in, and I didn’t want to leave that feeling. I didn’t want to leave that sense of community and simplicity. My responsibilities abroad were going to school or volunteering, which made life back in the United States seem ten times more complicated than it probably was. After returning from study abroad, the reverse culture shock was so severe that I stayed in varying degrees of depression over a 5 year period. My depression is biochemical, and that feeling of loss was something that I couldn’t truly overcome on my own.

I thought that with the medication and therapy the feeling would be non-existent or at least dissipate faster. However, the feeling stays just as long and just as strong. The only difference now is that it doesn’t complete destroy my mental state for a month after returning. Which I suppose is a pretty big difference. Not completely burning out helps me move forward and allows me to get the work done that I need to. I just wish that there was some magic spell or drug that would allow me to travel from country to country without feeling so disoriented when I return. In the meantime I have a great girlfriend, friends, family, and therapy that remind me what home feels like in the United States.

4 thoughts on “Dealing With Reverse Culture Shock and Burnout

  1. Thanks for sharing your experiences. Reverse culture shock is so much harder than a lot of people realize! It definitely hit me really hard when I came back and took me much longer to get over than I had originally anticipated. I found myself nodding a lot while reading this and I’m so glad someone else understands.

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    • It’s definitely one of those things that people who don’t travel really can’t understand. “But you lived in the USA almost you’re entire life…”. Yes, but at least in my case my brain adjusts waaay faster going to new places than going back to old ones.

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