Reverse Culture Shock over Winter Break

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Karen Ma, a Psychology student talks about getting used to being in Bath and "reverse culture shock" after meeting up with Hong Kong friends:

Experience of Living in the UK for 1st Semester

Being a fresher living on campus last year was not exactly as expected due to the Covid-19 pandemic. There were barely any in-person teaching or in-person events hosted by societies so for most of the semester, we stayed in our accommodation studying online. Although there were many restrictions and things that have become “new normal”, such as having online lectures and wearing facemasks, people have adapted accordingly.

At first I was very worried that it would be extremely difficult to make friends in my first year, but it turned out that from online social events, tutor groups and living in the university, I have made some really close friends and bonded really well with them. First semester at university may be confusing and frustrating as there were a lot to get used to such as living away from home, living alone, different learning style etc. It is very normal to take some time to get your head around everything in this completely new environment. I remember struggling so hard to get to know the university map (and even now I still don’t completely know where all buildings are but it’s fine!). Therefore, by the end of the semester, it is common to see freshers being exhausted, ready for the long-awaited winter break to go home and meet friends and families.

Difficulties About Being Back Home for the Winter Break

Last year I did not go back to my hometown Hong Kong as it sadly required a 21-days quarantine at hotel to return. Instead, I travelled around UK to meet my Hong Kong friends who also stayed during the break. Seeing my friends made me feel just like going back home so I felt very excited and was really looking forward to it.

However, when retuning to your hometown or culture after studying abroad, it can easily lead to a reaction called “reverse culture shock”. It is an emotional and psychological stage of re-adjustment, similar to your initial adjustment to living abroad.

Although I did not physically fly back to Hong Kong, interestingly, meeting my old Hong Kong friends led to me experiencing such culture shock. Changing from having my own en-suite room at university to staying with my friends, I had to readjust to living with others. Things like buying groceries that suit everyone’s taste, using earphones instead of loudspeaker in the house etc. My friends were very delighted to meet up but some have mentioned that “I seem to have changed”, for example my English and Chinese accent, and life style were different from before. At first, this made me anxious and worried if I had changed in a negative way.

How To Tackle Reverse Culture Shock

I decided to do a lot of self-reflection and openly discussed changes with my friends. In the end, I realised that it is very normal for people to change as we experience more. Being at university for the first semester helped me grow up a lot and become way more independent than how I used to be. For instance, before university, I did not really know how to cook and now cooking has become my new hobby! Submerging myself into an English culture, talking and listening to English people will definitely change my accent.

Therefore, my top tip for reverse culture shock is not to overthink it and accept it is normal for humans to adapt according to the environment they are in. Our personality and lifestyle is not, and will not, be something that is static. It is part of the beauty that we adapt, change and grow up as time goes by.

Always bear in mind that you will not be the only one feeling this way. When you are struggling with reverse culture shock, it is possible that many of your peers will be experiencing the same thing so don’t hesitate to talk to them about.

Readjustment When Coming Back to Bath for 2nd Semester

Returning to university after Christmas requires some adjusting too. Having a good relationship with my flatmates, I was excited to meet everyone again and to return to my university lifestyle. However, to my disappointment, most students did not return after the holiday due to the lockdown last year so the flat became emptier than the first term. Therefore, the top tip is to definitely enjoy every moment in university, and make the most of it, as you do not know when the unexpected will happen!

On the other hand, exam season was soon after the break therefore the atmosphere in the accommodation also changed slightly. Everyone became more anxious and there were fewer people gathering in the kitchen to cook together. However, it was still very nice to be with my flatmates, asking how each other’s revision progress was going and encouraging one another.

In conclusion, my biggest tip is to accept and embrace change or cultural differences. It can feel extremely difficult being in-between two cultures, but the positive side is that you get to broaden your horizon and learn about the good and bad from both cultures.

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