Campus, Globe

Reverse Culture Shock: When Home Ain’t So Sweet

During the fall semester of my sophomore year of college, I had the opportunity to go abroad and study at Kasteel Well in the Netherlands. I was able to travel all around Europe and meet new people both in the classroom and through my adventures. I stayed in hostels, apartments, and even with a friend’s distant cousin. I tried new food and drinks and even ended up with front row seats at a fashion show. The three months went by in a blur and amidst all of the excitement, I made memories that will last me decades, if not a lifetime.

However, I spent a good chunk of my time abroad feeling homesick. Although not much had changed with my family, it seemed like every time I talked to my friends, there was a new story that I wasn’t a part of. I couldn’t help but feel like there was a disconnect and it wasn’t just because our video chat kept buffering. I reassured myself that this was temporary and that when I returned in January, things would go back to normal as if I had never left.

For the first few days, this was partly true. My friends were all really eager to hear about my experiences and catch me up on theirs. Yet, I couldn’t help but feel awkward talking about Europe. No matter how much I tried to explain something, it seemed like they would never really understand, which makes sense, because I felt changed but I didn’t know how to express that using words.

I was a different person in a familiar place that didn’t feel so familiar anymore. I knew my friends’ lives weren’t going to stop just because I went abroad, but I couldn’t help feeling like I just didn’t fit in anymore. It would take months for me to finally get past this reverse culture shock and readjust to my life as a college student living in Boston.

Defining Reverse Culture Shock

Although many people have heard of the culture shock someone has when entering a new country, a lot less people know about the reverse culture shock someone experiences when they return home after being abroad for a period of time. In an article for Expatica.com, Robin Pascoe sums up this experience best. She says, “[Reverse culture shock] is when you feel like you are wearing contact lenses in the wrong eyes. Everything looks almost right.” It’s as if things have changed, but at the same time, not at all.

Students often experience reverse culture shock when they are unable to pick back up where there left off once they return home. This can result from an idealized version of home and the expectation of familiarity. According to StudentsAbroad.com, “A problem arises when reality doesn’t meet these expectations. Home may fall short of what you had envisioned, and things may have changed at home: your friends and family have their own lives, and things have happened since you’ve been gone. This is part of why home may feel so foreign.” This leads many students to feel frustrated, alienated, and misunderstood. It’s these festering feelings that cause reverse culture shock to kick in.

Reverse culture shock can be broken down into four stages: disengagement, initial euphoria, irritability, and readjustment.

  1. Disengagement: This stage occurs right before the student embarks to return home. They are packing their bags and getting excited to be reunited with their family and friends. For me, on top of packing and preparing, I also had to spend the last few days of my time abroad studying and taking my final exams. As a result, I didn’t fully feel like I savored my last moments in the Netherlands. It all went by so fast and I was on the plane heading home before I knew it.
  2. Initial Euphoria: The second stage is initial euphoria which is kind of like the honeymoon stage. It can occur during pre-departure when the student is psyching themselves up about returning home and also when they finally get home. They reconnect with their family and friends who are excited to hear all about the stories and experiences they had while they were away.
  3. Irritability: The third stage is characterized by feelings of loneliness and isolation. According to StudentsAbroad.com, “You might quickly become irritated or critical of others and of U.S. culture. Depression, feeling like a stranger at home and the longing to go back abroad are also not uncommon reactions. You may also feel less independent than you were in the country of your choice.” Once the student is able to work through these emotions, either through outside help or just a gradual transition, they will move onto the final stage of readjustment.
  4. Readjustment: The last stage is readjustment and it can take up to six months to finally reach. I know for me, I was unable to readjust the entire second semester that I was back at school. It wasn’t until everyone came back from summer break to start the new school year that I finally felt like I was part of the group again. Although, it took me towards the longer end of the spectrum, it may take others only a month or two.

So, How Do You Cope With It?

Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to this question and it may just be trial and error. What worked for me may not work for someone else, but here are a few tips that might be worth a try.

Write about it. Whether it’s a blog post, song, or poem, it may help to just put your experience down on paper. Validate your own feelings! It is understandable to feel misunderstood when you return home from abroad. Especially, if you feel like your friends and family are sick of hearing about your travels, this could be a way to share those experiences with others who may be interested. Writing these stories down will also help you remember your time abroad and keep it fresh in your mind. I wrote a few blog posts about my experience and it was great to hear from others who could relate and provide me with honest support, especially about the homesickness I felt while away.

Remind yourself that it is okay that you have changed. It’s very likely your values and views of the world have changed during your time abroad and that’s okay. Learn to accept this and also learn to accept that it may mean that some of your friendships have changed as well. Remain true to yourself and be open to continuing the friendships you forged while abroad and on that note…

Keep in touch with your friends from abroad. If anyone can relate to what you’re going through, it’s them! This doesn’t mean you have to ditch your old friends, but it may be nice to reconnect with friends who recognize “this different you” and will most likely not get sick of hearing of your stories from abroad. Although, I can’t guarantee anything about that last part!

Stay international and stay curious. It may seem like your adventure is over and it may be boring being at home, but don’t forget that adventures can be had even in your small town or city. Explore a part of your state you’ve never been to or take a trip to a different state entirely. There’s plenty to discover in your own country. Adventure doesn’t always mean going to a new one. So try to find excitement in the little things and see them in a new way.

It’s Going to Be Okay!

Reverse culture shock sucks. On top of feeling isolated and just downright sad, there’s also a feeling of guilt that comes with it. There were many nights I simply felt like it was wrong to be having all of these negative feelings. Was it my fault? Was I just not trying hard enough? How would things be different if I never went abroad in the first place? I thought it would never get better, but towards the end of last semester I began seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and now I finally feel like part of the group. It’s as if I had never left.

I am so thankful for my time abroad and although readjusting has been its own journey in a way, I know if I had the opportunity to do it all over, I wouldn’t change a thing. That being said, let’s start talking about reverse culture shock, because there is nothing shameful about struggling to get back into the routine of home. And perhaps, if we prepared students a little better, it wouldn’t even be as much of struggle in the first place.

 

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Health

How Super Are Superfoods?

avocado-713094_640While scrolling down your Facebook newsfeed, you may have come across an article or two claiming that if you eat a certain food you will magically lose weight. Whether posted by a friend or sponsored by the site, it seems now more than ever, health has become trendy like never before. With summer in full swing, many people are on the lookout for the next big health trend to keep them swim suit ready with ease. One of this year’s trends is to incorporate “superfoods” into one’s diets, some of the most popular being kale, chia seeds and avocado. Although these foods do provide nutrients necessary for a healthy diet, it can be hard not to question whether or not these foods are truly as super as the media is making them out to be.

Super Foods, Super Marketing

Superfood is not an official nutritional term. It was actually created by marketers as a way to brand certain foods that are particularly rich in one or two nutrients. “We are a culture looking for a cure all, a magic bullet that contains all the health benefits we need,” says Kimberly Dong, a registered dietician and Food and Nutrition Professor at Emerson College. “That’s why this marketing works. When there’s wide spread public interest in these foods, the prices go up.”

The problem is that these foods are not the cure all that marketers try to make them out to be.  “If you have poor lifestyle habits such as a lack of exercise or bad hygiene, eating superfoods will not prevent you from being unhealthy,” says Dong. It is okay to incorporate them into your diet, but you shouldn’t rely on them as being the main source for all of your health needs. It is important to eat a variety from all of the different food groups and get the nutrients you need from more than one source.

Emerson student, Caroline Glass, 19, has successfully incorporated superfoods into her diet while still maintaining a healthy balance and variety. The junior communication sciences and disorders major says, “I read a lot of health news about superfoods so I wanted to try them. I assumed that since I was reading and hearing so much about them, the things they were saying must have been true.” She eats kale, chia seeds and avocado, and although she’s not quite sure what they do to her body, she knows they are good for her. “I eat them mostly for their taste, but it doesn’t hurt that they are healthy too.”

Kale, Chia Seeds and Avocado, Oh My!

Kale has been getting a lot of hype lately with many people trading in their spinach salads to test out this chic green vegetable. In addition to tossing it in with other leafy greens, it has also been popular to incorporate it into different juices and shakes, a trend that Pressed, a juice bar in the Beacon Hill area of Boston, has been able to profit from. Of the nine juices and superfood shakes they have listed on the menu, four contain kale as a main ingredient. “Kale is incredibly high in iron. In fact, [five cups of kale] have as much iron in [them] as a [1/4 pound] hamburger,” says Ashley Gleeson, one of the owners of Pressed. Perhaps, that’s what makes this vegetable so appealing, especially for those who are vegetarians or vegans. While other leafy greens, such as broccoli or spinach contain iron, they do not have the same concentration found in kale.

Iron is not the only nutrient found in kale, however. In an email, Elizabeth Avery, a clinical dietician and sports nutritionist at Emerson College, says, “Kale is high in vitamin K which is important for blood clotting and bone metabolism, beta carotene which is necessary for normal vision, gene expression, reproduction, embryonic development, and immune function, and vitamin C, an antioxidant.” It also contains indole-3-carbinol, which has been found to aid in DNA repair and may even help prevent cancer.

download (11)Chia seeds are another superfood that many people have heard they should be eating, but are still unclear on what exactly it is they do. Emerson’s Glass says, “I don’t know why but I’ve noticed such a difference in my energy levels. When I eat chia seeds, I don’t need to drink coffee.” In addition to being a great source of energy, chia seeds also contain protein, fiber and omega 3s, a heart healthy fatty acid, but that’s not all.

“Chia seeds are encased in a type of jelly that sticks to toxins and removes them from your body,” says Gleeson, owner of Pressed. It’s hard not to be impressed with all of the health benefits of these tiny seeds, but again, it is important to look at the bigger picture, and remember that none of these health benefits really matter, if you are not eating a balanced diet.

Avery, a registered dietician, says, “People benefit most from the synergistic effects of a broad spectrum of nutrients from a wide variety of foods, not a few nutrients from a few specific foods. [These] superfoods only provide a fraction of the nutrients that humans need to maintain their health.” Eating these foods will not cancel out the effects of the unhealthy foods you eat nor will they provide all the nutrient benefits of the healthy foods that may be lacking from your diet.

Emerson student, Rachael Samson, 19, has always enjoyed eating avocados and was happy to learn about all of their health benefits when she took a Food and Nutrition class last fall. The film major says, “I eat avocados because they are really filling and I like the taste of them, but I know they are healthy too. We learned in class that they are the good kind of fat that is heart healthy.”

Aside from that fact that they provide the kind of fat that our body needs, Avery says, “Avocados are good sources of unsaturated fat, vitamin K, folate, a B vitamin that prevents megaloblastic anemia and aids in amino acid metabolism and vitamin C.” Regardless, many people like Samson, eat them simply because they are delicious. They have a creamy, rich texture and are a good way to spice up your diet if you’re looking for a different kind of fruit. However, be aware that due to their fat content, they are high in calories with one avocado having 300-400 calories.

Health is the New Black

In these past few years, there has been a clear shift away from extreme, crash diets towards healthier, superfood fads. But why does it seem like people are more aware of their health than ever before? Pressed’s owner, Gleeson says, “Honestly, I think people have been watching their parents’ health as they’ve aged and it’s made them more conscious. They are starting to realize that they not only want to look better but they want to feel better too.”

Trying to add a superfood or two into your diet isn’t going to hurt and it will probably even do more good than harm. Just don’t forget about the other foods and nutrients your body needs aswell. Emerson’s Glass says, “You shouldn’t need to change your diet a lot to add in these superfoods. That being said, if you do add them in, remember that they don’t cancel out any unhealthy things you may be eating, and you still need to eat a variety of foods to maintain a balanced diet.”

You_give_me_blues

Globe, Opinion

Self Discoveries at the Berlin Wall

Berlin 2014 016

I had always imagined that the Berlin Wall would be full of graffiti; however, to use such a term to describe the true art work that stood before me would have been an understatement. I could not help but become entranced by the beautiful illustrations as I moved from one mural to the next. Each one touching upon social, political and historical issues that have impacted not only Berliners, but people from all over the world.

While walking along the wall, I took in each segment carefully until I came across a quote that hit extremely close to home. In white and green text, first in German then translated to English, read the words: “Many small people who in many small places do many small things that can alter the face of the world.” I knew I was standing with my mouth agape, but I was not embarrassed. Instead, I was rendered speechless, far too immersed in my own thoughts to be self conscious.

I have always had an insatiable wanderlust that the small town nature of my home state has never been able to quench. I’d be the first one to defend Rhode Island and I can understand why a typical Rhode Islander never leaves—the state is beautiful, after all— but the usual routine of attending the local college or university, finding a job and starting a family not too far away from the town where I grew up was never the life I wanted for myself. So the summer after graduation, I packed up my childhood bedroom to move out-of-state and officially begin my freshman year at Emerson College.

It was not long until I signed up for the Kasteel Well study abroad program, even though I knew that getting in would be a long shot. About two months later, I received my acceptance and my fascination with the notion that I could break the mold and do more and be more than the generations who came before me was stronger than ever.

Considering how much I’ve grown in the past two years, I couldn’t help but wonder what that quote on the Berlin Wall would have meant to me in high school. Would I have felt just as moved by it as I do today? I’d like to believe so. Looking back on all my teenage angst and desperation to hit the road, I think that that quote just put into words what I had always felt and never knew how to articulate; how simply that quote was able to summarize one of my life’s aspirations: to be one person from one small state who, through her experiences and interactions with others, lives in a way that can help change the world.

Even as the other members of my group had continued along the sidewalk of the East Side Gallery, I found myself lingering behind to pull a pen out of my purse. Although unsure of how to sum up the personal significance of the quote, I began to sign the Berlin Wall:

“This is important.” –Charlotte 10.12.14 

And it still is. It’s been almost a full semester since I’ve returned from the Castle and I still find myself thinking about this quote from time to time. From that point forward, it has continued to serve as a reminder that the “little” things I’m doing here in Boston or even back home still matter. Yes, travelling Europe was an awfully big adventure, but I no longer believe you need to travel across the ocean to find yourself or make a difference in the world.

There are small moments in the everyday where I am discovering new pieces of myself. The Castle pushed me out of my comfort zone but now I’m finding myself taking those new skills and applying them to my experiences here, the ones that may seem small to some people, but to me, are the most important thus far.

I don’t think my time here in Boston is complete just yet; after all I still have two years of college to get through, but at the same time, the idea of settling back in Rhode Island post graduation no longer makes me cringe. It can be easy to feel like you’re above going home, but at the end of the day, adventures can be created anywhere and even the smallest of people in the smallest of places can make a difference. And perhaps the most surprising part of that revelation is that it took going to the biggest of places to discover it.

Campus, Globe, Opinion

Homesickness Abroad

I’m from Rhode Island, so when I was starting the first few months of my freshman year at Emerson College, I was lucky enough to only be an hour bus ride away from home. In addition to the ease of the short distance and convenient transportation, I also spent my first couple of months at college suffering from a virus in my eyes. This unlucky circumstance forced me to not only wear my glasses until further notice (which all throughout high school you would have never caught me in), but also to return home much sooner than I had originally planned for my follow-up visits. By the time Columbus Day had rolled around, I had already been forced to go home twice.

Fast forward a year and I am currently enjoying the amazing opportunity of studying abroad at Emerson’s European Center at Kasteel Well in the Netherlands. I’m also having the not-as-amazing opportunity of experiencing homesickness for the first time. I’m 19, and if I can be honest, this is probably the longest time I’ve been away from home. Even if I couldn’t go home while I was in Boston, my parents always made the effort to come to me instead. In reality, I’ve never gone more than about six weeks without seeing my family face-to-face. I’m basically hitting that mark now.

What’s especially difficult about being home sick while studying abroad is that you can’t really tell your friends from back home or in Boston that you’re feeling down. Honestly, it’s probably the last thing any of them want to hear when they all would have killed for the opportunity to travel. So instead, when my friends and family members ask me how much fun I’m having in Europe, I smile tightly and say something along the lines of: “Tons! It’s just been so amazing! I’m having such a great time!” Which, don’t get me wrong, is true, but only to a certain extent.

The program here is designed to be fast-paced. We’re constantly going and going and going, never really having a chance to take a break and breathe. During the week we go to class and study, and then, come Friday morning, we’re up early, ready to take on a new European city and adventure. We are surrounded by so much overwhelming beauty and culture, trying to take both physical and mental photographs, while forcing ourselves to realize that this is actually real life.

There really shouldn’t be any time to be sad or homesick. Yet, there are still moments here where by some sort of miracle you may actually have the dorm room to yourself. Or maybe it’s the complete opposite. Maybe you are surrounded by people in the dining hall and your mind drifts back to what your friends back in Boston are doing. Maybe its noon and you so desperately just want to talk to that one particular person back home but its 6 a.m. there or maybe its 3 a.m. or maybe it’s 1 in the afternoon and he or she is just as busy as you are.

I’ve talked to a few people here about this topic and I know I’m not the only who has been feeling a little bit down among a mix of hundreds of other different and completely valid emotions. I think we all need to give ourselves a little bit more credit. It’s important to remind ourselves that there is nothing ungrateful or guilt-worthy about feeling sad while we are abroad. It’s safe to say that all of us have experienced the ups and downs of studying so far away from home, so far away from the culture of our home.  And hey, let’s give our friends a little more credit, too. We should be able to be honest with them about how we are feeling. Yes, we are having tons of fun and yes, it is an amazing experience. But there is also a little part in all of us that wishes we were a part of the same experiences our friends and family members are having back in the States. Just like they, too, are wishing they were a part of our European adventures here at the Castle.