Something happens when you study abroad, it’s truly unexplainable but anyone who has taken the adventure overseas knows what I’m talking about. Studying abroad is life-changing; at times it’s incredible and you want to stay in that exact moment forever. At other times, it’s so difficult that you question why you decided to do this in the first place. However, in the end, everyone uses the same word, life-changing.
I studied abroad a long time ago and when I returned home I was in a weird place. I could go as far as to call it a depression. I really never knew if it was just me or not. Years later, working for USAC and talking with students daily about their experiences, I quickly realized that many students go through the same thing; a series of very strong emotions and similar experiences upon returning home. It’s bigger than reverse culture shock (which is a very legitimate thing). For me, returning home was one of the hardest obstacles I’ve had to overcome thus far in my life. I had to learn how to move on and keep my abroad experience with me, but not let it consume me.
While there are hundreds of emotions associated with coming home from abroad, today I’m focusing on three simple feelings that you may experience when you come home. I’m also here to tell you it’s okay, and to embrace the roller coaster of emotions you may have.
#1. You may feel lost
After spending a summer, semester, or year abroad, chances are you’ve fully dived into a new culture and way of life. You’ve most likely acquired new friends, discovered things about yourself that you didn’t know before, and picked up some new daily habits. When you step off the plane, back to “reality,” it’s common to feel lost. While your world has changed immensely, chances are that back home has not changed at all. You’ll need to take the time to learn how to integrate your new lifestyle into your old lifestyle and it may take a while. Keeping in contact with friends and staff from abroad always eases the transition.
#2. You may feel misunderstood
The experience of studying abroad is so powerful that most people want to share it with everyone that they know. While friends and family are interested in hearing about your travels, they can’t relate to living in another country for an extended period of time (unless they’ve done it themselves). Eventually, friends may get tired of hearing about a time in your life that they weren’t a part of, or not be as interested in your time abroad as you hoped they would be.
The problem was that I had grown and matured so drastically during the time that I was abroad that I was beyond shocked to see that people who didn’t go abroad seemed to stay the same. It was that same happiness caused by normality I experienced the first day I was back that made me agitated, confused and frankly, pissed off just a few weeks later. I felt like everyone was wasting their time. What do you mean you don’t want to know everything I did? Do you really not want to hear about how much I grew to love French grammar? How can you say that you don’t care about the personal and professional transformation I experienced? I was annoyed at anyone who didn’t give me their undivided attention. Joel Freeman; Pau, France alum
A great way to get through this period is to seek out other people who have studied abroad. Check with your study abroad office or the USAC website to get involved in alumni organized events, become a peer advisor for other students wanting to study abroad, write a blog, and spend time surrounded by people who understand and can celebrate your time abroad.
#3. You may feel unfulfilled
Returning to an old routine is about as exciting as it sounds. You’ve most likely just spent the last several months of your life doing something new every single day. Whether it’s trying a new food, traveling to a new location, or something as simple as walking down a new street, it’s been a whirlwind of growth and change. Don’t get me wrong, there is some obvious excitement in returning home, but getting into old routines happens quickly and can be unfulfilling.
The easiest way to continue to feel fulfilled is by continuing to grow and challenge yourself. If you were studying a language abroad, continue studying it at home, volunteer at a school or join a language group. Continue to travel! I have not returned to Europe since I studied there, but I have been to many other places around the world, and I get antsy if I don’t take at least one large vacation a year, as well as a lot of small ones! Continue to explore the world and engage with other cultures and make it a goal to not let routine lead to feeling unfulfilled.
For additional insight on returning home from abroad, check out these articles.
If you’re interested in sharing your abroad or returning home story with other students, consider submitting a blog post to this blog.