Culture shocked

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“Devastated.”

That’s how UW-Eau Claire senior Britta Cusick said she felt when she woke up in America after spending a semester abroad. She said she remembers the contrast between having the best time of her life in France one day, and the next being sick from her first meal back in the States.

What Cusick was feeling is called re-entry culture shock, a common reaction from people who return home after spending time abroad.

“I was basically devastated to be back,” Cusick said. “You have to completely re-learn your culture and figure out your new identity and who you are now and how that fits into your old life. It’s really an interesting process and I think it’s underestimated in terms of how life-changing it can be.”

Luckily, Cusick found a way to use her re-entry culture shock to her advantage. She got involved with the intercultural communications program and teamed up with Eau Claire alumna Chelsea Jacobson and professor of communication and journalism Judy Sims to work on a faculty-student research project focusing on study abroad and re-entry culture shock.

Cusick found the open-ended responses about re-entry culture shock the most interesting and used them as the basis for her paper.

“The most rewarding part (of the research) was reading the open-ended responses because students were very honest in their responses and it’s really illuminating to read about these different experiences,” Cusick said.
She presented her research and won the award for top paper Saturday at the Western States Communication Association’s Undergraduate Scholars Research Conference in Reno, Nev.

The professor on the panel provided lots of encouraging, positive feedback, Cusick said.

“I got to represent all the work Dr. Sims and I have done over the past year and a half,” she said. “For how much advice she gave me, how much guidance she gave me, to be able to present the paper and then get an award for it was really fulfilling.”

Sims is just as pleased with Cusick’s achievement as she is.

“Last year, Britta presented at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research,” Sims said. “I am absolutely elated Britta’s research was accepted for presentation and recognized with the honor of top paper.”

Cusick is not the only Eau Claire student to suffer from re-entry culture shock.

Sophomore Jenna Amundson felt prepared for any culture shock she might have encountered while studying abroad in Spain last semester. She doesn’t think many people notice the effect re-entry culture shock has on those who study abroad.

“It’s leaving a place you’ve known your whole life, seeing something new, and then coming back as a new person and feeling like you should be your old self, but you’re not; you have to adapt,” Amundson said.

Junior Jordan Herrmann, who also studied in Spain last semester, had a difficult time grasping the concept of adjusting to a familiar place.

“It was strange adjusting to home because it didn’t feel like a place I should need to adjust to, but I did,” Herrmann said.

Cusick said the girls’ reactions are similar to her experiences, but stresses that re-entry culture shock can manifest as many different symptoms, such as boredom, anger toward your country, or a change in your values.

While Cusick is proud of her accomplishments, she says her goal is to help others. Through her research, Cusick has found a productive way to help herself readjust to America, while also discovering ways to help others recover from re-entry culture shock.

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