Dealing with Reverse Culture Shock

Dealing with Reverse Culture Shock

In a highly globalized world, international travel is more accessible than ever. For our youth, this paves the way for opportunities to pursue their education abroad. They are now exposed to a wide range of perspectives and cultures in both academia and beyond. While studying abroad may account for greater diversity, students are often unwilling or unable to transfer their knowledge back home. But why is this so? 

Whether it’s the discomfort of repatriation or the emerging gap between past relationships at home, there are multiple challenges in reconciling the differences between your adopted home and the place you “truly come from”. Having studied abroad in several countries, I’ve always felt out-of-place and distanced from my home country. I was educated in the United States until the age of eight before moving to South Korea and Singapore. I am now back in the States to further my studies. The idea of “home” became so distorted that I felt disoriented, rather than at ease, now that I am back in America again. In fact, I experienced a culture shock – I was curiously unable to apply any of the new knowledge or skills that I had picked up abroad. 

That studying in a country with a completely foreign style of education would be an academic challenge was expected. Back in elementary school, I had to move from San Francisco to South Korea despite barely knowing the language. I lived in a constant state of anxiety, dreading the moment when I would be asked to answer a question on a text I could hardly understand. 

My only form of solace was English: I gained easy admission to the advanced classes and clinched awards in writing and speech. Even then, I was ultimately unable to completely fit in with either the Korean or American education system. When I was told we would be moving to Singapore, it seemed like freedom was finally within my grasp (no more classes in Korean!). How wrong that would turn out to be. 

As I barely scraped ‘A’s in school assessments, I was exposed to the full brunt of the sixth grade Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) preparations. Considered among the most pivotal years of one’s academic life, it was suffice to say the pressure was great. Even English, the subject I was most confident in, became a source of discouragement. My distinct American accent made me falter in class discussions, my academic progress was mediocre as the native teachers struggled to understand me… all of this made me feel completely alienated – and alone. However, this motivated me to explore the community and the resources that it beheld – I decided to seek help from others. Ultimately, once I took that first step, my teachers played an important role in helping me assimilate into and excel in the Singaporean education system. 

Moving on to pursue secondary education at Raffles Girls’ School (RGS), I felt somewhat liberated from the rigidity of PSLE preparation. RGS offered more hands-on and project-based classes that were similar to those in the States. I got to create book trailers, participate in various international research and cultural exchange programs, as well as network with the RGS alumni. 

2019 – I moved back to Los Angeles. While my last few years in Singapore helped me readjust to the education system in the States, by no means did I feel at home. I wasn’t as educated on U.S. politics or history than the rest of my peers. I felt like a fish out of water in an environment where everyone seemed to already form their own cliques. Even now, there is still an intangible difference between us. These challenges are universal to all students returning home from abroad. However, it is these challenges that bring about a varied perspective that benefit us in the long run, making us useful to the society we return to one day.

Back in the United States, I’ve been involved in multiple programmes that promote and serve an international audience. Whether I’m serving as the treasurer and secretary of my school’s immigration club, analysing world genocide as an intern at the University of California or founding a literary magazine, my global outlook comes with me. Without my experience in Korea and Singapore, I would never have truly understood the value of international community and opinion.

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