Reverse Culture Shock… It’s Real!

Reflecting on her return back to the U.S. after her Student Exchange Program to Denmark, Katelyn Mistele, shares her insights in experiencing reverse culture shock – culture shock you feel coming back home.

It has been officially five months since I have been back from my exchange experience in Denmark, and it still crosses my mind every day. My love for traveling, culture, and Denmark was solidified in a way I never thought was possible, and it still effects me everyday. We were all warned about the potential impacts of culture shock and reverse culture shock, but my self personally never gave much thought to the latter. I thought I would be itching to get back to normality and Ohio State, but instead leaving Denmark I was not looking forward to getting back to reality I was dragging my feet in every way possible to hold onto the five months I spent in Europe.

Beautiful cobblestone streets of downtown Copenhagen!

It’s interesting I never really went through a huge culture shock when I arrived in Denmark. I wasn’t really anticipating anything out of the ordinary when I arrived. I went in with a very open mind. Slight nuances in the Danish culture surprised me. For example, I wasn’t anticipating everyone to be speaking Danish all of the time there was little English present. I never would categorize any part of the culture as a shock though. I was open to new experiences and a new way of life and I suggest everyone who goes abroad to try to do this. There isn’t really a way you can prepare for it to successfully be open-minded but I found success in simply being aware of the differences and asking the Danes when I wanted to know why.

Culture sharing in Europe is more prominent than it is here. Individuals love to share their culture and learn more about yours. I had a few Danish friends who were so interested in America and satisfied my hunger for the “why” for aspects of their culture. For example I got coffee with a Danish friend for almost two hours and we discussed the differences in Danish and American culture. We chatted about everything from the different methods of grocery shopping to politics! I also had the opportunity to go into a Danish high school and learn more about their culture (see my blog post on this if you’re interested)! Culture sharing is so powerful and present in Europe, so take advantage of it! This also helps mitigate culture shock if you view it as a learning experience rather than throwing yourself into a new culture and trying to live.

A common street sight that you will experience from anywhere in downtown Copenhagen!

At the other end of this “culture sharing” is the return to home and the culture shock that comes along with it. Pieces in the American culture that used to be so normal, now seems obscure. For example, everywhere in Europe charged you for grocery bags. It was expected for everyone to be environmental and sustainable and bring their own bags. Also I feel as if the American culture isn’t open to new ideas. I mentioned this to people, the bag policy, they often scoffed and said that’s a hassle or they might say it’s a good idea but they were never going to take the time and effort to do it. I don’t want to stereotype the American culture as being close minded or “bad”, but my personal interactions with this idea is that the American culture is often very “near sighted” and think the American way is always the best.

In Europe individuals are curious about our cultures and practices, whereas American’s in general seem to be rooted in our own ways and not open to “culture sharing” and change. I personally fell into this stereotype of American’s that I held too, prior to going to Europe. I always thought we did it best here. In a way the reverse culture shock to me has helped me grow as an individual. The experience of my exchange program helped me become more self aware and open minded but the reverse culture shock has solidified these aspects.

One of the quieter canals in Copenhagen!

So yes, reverse culture shock is real! It’s not necessarily bad however. Dealing with it now I am urging myself to embrace it just as I did for culture shock abroad and use it to my advantage to help myself solidify by new found self-awareness and open-mindedness. I am finding myself craving traveling and planning new trips, but however I am also finding myself craving new experiences. I am a part of a group on campus that connects foreign exchange students with a mentor on campus. I am currently a mentor to a Japanese student who is here for a year and this helps with the reverse culture shock as I still find myself being exposed to new ideas and participating in this constant conversation of culture sharing. I am also pursuing a degree in international business in addition to my operations management degree so I find myself fully engaged in these courses too because at the end of the day they are all rooted in culture sharing and the discussion of different business practices all over the world.

Hamlet’s Castle in Denmark. This castle is what Shakespeare based the location of Hamlet off of!

Tips for overcoming reverse culture shock:

  1. Plan your next trip! — get excited about trying to experience other cultures, and invite your family and friends to join you! However this isn’t always feasible so see the other tips below…
  2. Find a cultural group — There are many groups on campus that all have a different culture to them and can help continue to foster the new sense of open-mindedness you might have gained from being abroad. Even groups that aren’t necessarily full of exchange students, but a group that is focus on heritage of a different culture can help in decreasing your reverse culture shock!
  3. Use your peers — Your peers that went abroad that is. My friends will honestly probably say they get tired of my abroad stories but the people that don’t are my friends from abroad or my other peers within the Fisher Exchange Program. Use these people and chat about your experiences it can help alleviate the reverse culture shock.
  4. Embrace it — Experience a different culture and way of life is a powerful thing. Don’t look at reverse culture shock negatively instead look at it as a learning experience and help break down some of the stereotypes that exist saying that “American’s are close minded people who think their way is the best”. Use your experience to your advantage!

 

Katelyn Mistele

Katelyn Mistele is a third-year student at Fisher pursuing degrees in both Logistics Management and International Business. She is spending a semester abroad in Denmark. At Ohio State, she is involved in a variety of organizations on campus ranging from her business fraternity to two mentorship programs. Originally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Katelyn loves spending time with family and friends, trying new restaurants, and hitting the gym.

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