Returning Home from College: Reverse Culture Shock

In our last post, we discussed the culture shock that often occurs when students head to college.  Some students, and their parents, may not be prepared for the roller coaster ride as students become acclimated to their new environment.  Knowing that the ups and downs that students experience are normal will help everyone.

Once your student has made the transition to school and begun to feel comfortable in their new ”culture” of college, both of you may feel that the transition is complete.  However, an important stage remains — returning home again.  Whether the return is relatively brief — for winter break or summer vacation perhaps — or whether it is a more permanent move back home, you and your student should be prepared for potential re-entry awkwardness and difficulties.  Once again, however, the process is normal.  Understanding it may help.

The reverse culture shock of returning home may take your student by surprise because it is unexpected and because they don’t realize how much both of you, have changed during the transition time.  This second transition process may be especially difficult because it is unexpected.

When the familiar feels strange

Your student may not expect to return home and have their home environment feel foreign. It’s especially strange and disconcerting to feel out of place in a place that also feels so familiar. Your student may have been very busy in the last few days or weeks before returning home, perhaps with exams and papers or social activities.  In the midst of the excitement and anticipation about returning home, your student hasn’t had time to reflect or think about potential changes.  During the time away, they may also have developed a somewhat idealized view of home — remembering the good things, but minimizing negative details.

Your student returns home and perhaps settles into some old routines — but they feel different because they now have some new attitudes and habits.  They hadn’t expected to feel awkward in their own home.  Your student is now less independent than they were at school and need to consider others — perhaps in terms of meal times, family activities, sharing in chores, sharing space, or respecting others’ routines.  They may also begin to discover that others have moved on. Close friends have changed as well.  The family may have a new dynamic.  You may have adjusted to your emptier nest and have new habits that your student hadn’t expected.

Your student may begin to feel frustrated or irritated. There may be more misunderstandings than anyone anticipated.  They may feel bored or that they don’t fit in.  This isn’t what coming home was supposed to feel like.

Change is the new normal

Knowing that change and adaptation are sometimes difficult will help.  Remembering that transition and adjustment has normal phases will help.  Expecting there to be some difficulties will help.

Be patient with your student.  Be patient with yourself.  Talk to your student about typical phases of adjustment and help them understand what they are feeling and why those feelings may be occurring. It is important to remember that understanding the stages of adjustment and adaptation doesn’t mean that your student will be able to skip them, but it does mean that they can see that whatever they are feeling or experiencing may be a stage — a phase that will pass.  Your student may have some work to do, and you may also need to work through your own feelings, but you and your student will eventually find that comfort level with a new way of being together and enjoying the more confident and mature person that your student is becoming.

Related Posts:

The Culture Shock of Adjusting to College

Shaking Up the Nest: When Your College Student Comes Home for Break

Welcoming Your College Student Home for Break: What to Expect

Welcoming Your College Student Home for Break: What You Can Do to Prepare

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3 thoughts on “Returning Home from College: Reverse Culture Shock”

  1. The student’s return was great for the first month until I had to buy a new car. Once that piece of independence was completed, the very next day, the student’s attitude change.
    Arrogance, lack of patience, criticism, aggressiveness came all out at the same time. I could feel the hate and resentment towards me for having given the opportunity to return home after college to save money for an apartment.
    After 3 months, I had to give a 2 month’s notice to leave the house. Not fair to the other 2 siblings who returned home after college more mature and peaceful. All I ask is for respect and peace. After all, I am still paying all the bills as a single mom.

    • CD – Sounds as though you had a rough go of it. It’s interesting how different siblings can be. Returning to live home after college is tough for so many students and they can take it out on families. Having a deadline – to leave or at least have a conversation about expectations is a good idea. Respect and peace are what we all need more of!

  2. Perhaps consider using he or she in the remarks regarding “Your student”. ie:Once your student has made the transition to school and begun to feel comfortable in his new ”culture” of college, both you and he may feel that the transition is complete. The reverse culture shock of returning home may take your student by surprise because it is unexpected and because he doesn’t realize how, and He hasn’t expected to feel awkward in his own home.


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