A year in Italy followed by three weeks in Japan. Now that I’m back in the UK for good, I can already feel the post-Erasmus depression kicking in.
It’s that time of year when lots of students are either getting ready to start their years abroad, or are returning to the UK having just finished their years abroad. This time last year emotions were running high as I was getting ready to set off to Pisa. It’s been a seriously incredible year and I wish I could do it all over again. Nevertheless, I can’t deny that it has been difficult at times and I’ve had to overcome a whole bunch of challenges, with culture shock and reverse culture shock being just a couple of them.
Culture shock is often categorised into four distinct phases:
- Honeymoon: That initial excitement you get when you arrive in a new country;
- Frustration: When you start to notice the differences between your own culture and the new culture. During this phase you’ll probably be questioning why the people in your host country act and behave the way that they do;
- Adjustment: When you begin to adjust to different cultural values and feel more comfortable in your host country;
- Mastery: The part when you feel completely at home in your host country. Yay!
I can say without a doubt that I’ve experienced all of these phases at some point. British, Japanese and Italian people all have really different cultures and lifestyles. Unsurprisingly, the Italian culture shock probably hit me the hardest. Italians are loud, passionate and emotional – three words that you don’t often associate with your typical Brit. However, they are some of the most amazing people you will ever meet! Getting to know an Italian is easy because they’re so friendly and laid-back.
Adjusting to life in Japan was a completely different experience. Japanese people are quiet, polite and respectful. One thing that struck me particularly about Japanese people was the ways they conduct themselves. A really busy train in Tokyo at rush hour doesn’t feel so crowded, because the passengers compose themselves in such a way that doesn’t invade your personal space. Even though it’s a different world to Italy, Japanese people are also incredibly friendly and will put in the effort to make sure you’re happy and comfortable.
Now I’m back home in the UK (cry) and currently dealing with reverse culture shock, which is also made up of a few phases similar to regular culture shock, but can be split into two main parts:
- Idealisation: When you spend a lot of time abroad and you begin to remember and consider your home country in an idealised way, forgetting all the bad things you may have once associated it with and only focusing on the positives (when I was in Italy I spent a lot of time idealising British tea bags and chocolate). Being abroad, we also assume that life in our previous world hasn’t changed at and will be exactly the same upon our return;
- Reality: Returning to your home country and it isn’t idealised any more. You remember the negative aspects of your country that you’d forgotten abroad and you realise that things have moved on without you while you’ve been away.
I say that I’m dealing with reverse culture shock, but really it’s probably just a combination of missing Italy, missing travelling, and feeling daunted by the prospect of approaching my final year at Leicester…!
Anyway! My advice to anyone worrying about culture shock is to keep an open mind. Try to embrace cultural values and ways of life that aren’t familiar to you, as it will make your experience abroad so much more bearable and enjoyable. It might be difficult at first but eventually you’ll learn to appreciate your host country’s culture, and you might even begin to question your own cultural values! And to those of you worrying about reverse culture shock… try to stay positive and with a bit of time everything will be back to normal again.
There’s a famous Italian quote which I feel is appropriate right now that says you cry twice in Southern Italy, once when you arrive and once when you leave. That’s exactly how I would describe my year abroad, and a lot of other post-year abroad students would probably say the same.
Are you preparing for your year abroad? Have you just got back from a year abroad? Do you have any culture shock experiences? Let me know in the comments!