8 August 2019

The Reverse Culture Shock: Returning from Study Abroad | Study With New Zealand

Aviva Lessnick
American student at the University of Otago, Dunedin

A blog about reverse culture shock, redefining home, and post-New Zealand life.

After returning home from New Zealand, I didn’t know what to expect. I was the last of my friend group in NZ to leave, so I already had a taste of what it was like to go our separate ways.

Leaving the University of Otago, Dunedin, and New Zealand…now that was something I wasn’t prepared for. After 6 months in the place that felt like home to me, it was time to return to my original home.

There’s a layered experience that happens after returning, and I hope to touch upon what each of those layers are, and tips on how to handle them! 

Reverse Culture Shock

The reverse culture shock was something I was really worried I’d struggle with. My original culture shock upon going to NZ was very mild, especially since I welcomed the experience with open arms.

When returning, I was immediately bombarded with questions. “How was your trip” being the most frequently asked.

While I know the question was asked with excitement and good intentions, I also feel so misunderstood every time I am asked it. I was in New Zealand for 6 months, not three weeks. I can’t help but describe it as more of a lifestyle than a trip. After a month of being there, it wasn’t this nuanced experience anymore, it was my life.

So how do you answer a question with such a BIG answer? Below are some tips...

Answering questions

  • Don’t undersell the experience! Explain that you lived a totally different lifestyle, and that it is difficult to summarize months worth of memories.
  • Have a mental list of 10 favorite things you did/saw/experienced. That way, when asked about it, you can immediately answer with excitement and encouragement. Alternate between a few memories to talk about. (It might feel like you’re not doing your experience justice by just picking a few things to talk about, but it is a good balance between your understanding of the experience and others’ understanding).
  • Read the room. Are people asking to be polite? Are they asking because they are thinking about studying abroad? Are they adventure seekers wanting to hear all about your bungy jump?! Adjust your answers to fit the vibe, but be authentic.
Hiking in the mountains with my friends is one of my best New Zealand memories


Answering questions is just one aspect of returning. Another aspect is addressing the feeling of misplacement in your own home. I love my home and my university, Colorado State University, but right now they just feel...off.

I find myself missing the clock tower at University of Otago, the quick bus ride to the beach, and even such small things like the chocolate brands in NZ.

What’s the remedy? I have found that a few things help ease my mind when these thoughts creep in.

Wearing my Colorado State sweater in New Zealand

1. Accept your feelings

It sucks to feel so weird in your own home, but it is just another part of the experience. Just acknowledge your feelings; it’s natural.

2. Remember this...

Remind yourself of a very important fact: Going abroad would not be so fun if it were not so fleeting. Being back home is just an uncomfortable reminder that your experience was a special one. It can’t be recreated, and that is something to be happy about.

3. Keep in touch with your friends from NZ!

I can’t stress this enough. Chances are, everyone feels super weird after returning. It is helpful to chat about it to someone that gets it.

Stay in touch with the friends you shared the experience with.

4. Continue exploring

Like I said earlier, the experience you have when abroad is best described as a lifestyle. The good news about lifestyles is that they can travel too!

Maybe I can’t surf in Colorado, or go to the dance clubs (seeing as I’m not 21 yet), or ditch class to go look at some penguins. But! I can continue to seek adventures the way I did in New Zealand. Colorado has so much to offer me, I just need to explore it!

5. Be patient with yourself

Give yourself time to adjust. I was only away from my university for one semester, yet I have found myself forgetting street names, locations of buildings, and even the names of some class friends.

I know what you’re thinking, “HOW”?! But it’s a thing, and I am just being patient with myself. Going back to university a week before classes has given me the time to re- acclimate, and I highly recommend it.

6. Fall in love with your home all over again!

After returning from such an amazing experience in NZ, it was easy to focus on what I had there that I don’t have here. But it’s so important to remind yourself why you love your home or university so much.

I have had so much fun falling in love with Fort Collins all over again! I treated myself to my favorite food, favorite stores, and favorite views.

I hope this blog gave you a little insight into what it means to experience reverse culture shock, and how to handle the complexities of returning home after such an AMAZING experience! 

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About the contributors
Aviva Lessnick
American student at the University of Otago, Dunedin