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Returning home from study abroad is never easy. However, for Spring 2020 students, the post-study abroad blues are probably amplified right now. The fact that you can’t come home and reconnect with friends to share stories, catch up on each other’s lives, and create a new routine for yourself because of self-quarantine or social distancing could be making the transition more difficult.
Feeling lonely is a common symptom of reverse culture shock, but for students who were pulled from their programs without a chance to say goodbye to friends, staff, or their host country, the feeling of loneliness could be enhanced right now.
There is no quick fix to reverse culture shock, feeling lonely when you return from study abroad or dealing with the current situation in the world. These are uncertain times and many things are out of our control, but what is in our control is how we choose to face the days ahead.
At USAC, we are here to help you cope with these times. The CDC has a great resource on managing health and anxiety during a pandemic, and there are plenty of articles related to keeping yourself busy like the 10 best ways to enrich, entertain yourself at home. But we wanted to provide some tips directly related to students coming home from study abroad. Because let’s get real, these emotions are on a whole different level.
How to Combat Loneliness After Study Abroad
We know, way easier said than done, but the reality is that we are all facing a “new normal.” Like any situation in life, you can choose to look at it in a negative or a positive way. Sometimes all you can control is the way you react and in times like these, that’s the best we can all do. Just by reading this article, we know you’re headed in the right direction.
The other good news is you’re not alone! Thousands of students and people are facing the same challenges, fears, emotions, and experiences that you are right now.
We love what Tess from USAC Brighton had to say about returning home early from her study abroad:
In about two hours I will be soaring across the Atlantic Ocean to come home after 49 days (7 weeks; 1.61 months) studying abroad at the University of Brighton in Brighton, England, where I had planned to be for 133 days (19 weeks; 4.37 months). (And once I get home I have to self-isolate for two weeks because that’s how the world is working right now.) This is not the post I imagined myself writing at the airport. This is not the way my journey was supposed to end.
I’ve never been good with goodbyes, and I’ve never had to say goodbye quite like this before. I‘m heartbroken. Right now, it’s hard to see things in that different light, the brighter kind, the one with all the hope, in the face of such a devastating and unprecedented global crisis. But I’m going to try to be hopeful (and ferociously so, despite everything!). So here it goes:
Goodbyes are great for gratitude. And over the past 7 weeks (and especially the last 58 hours) I have been overwhelmed by how thankful I am that I got to be alive in this place, at this (sad and scary, but important) time, with the people around me, as I am. Just like the home I’ve always known was in my heart while I was here, I’m certain that Brighton and its sweet sea air will be with me wherever I go. And it will be waiting for me, even richer than before when I come back someday. (Because I will!)
I encountered many, many challenges during my time here; these 7 weeks were honestly some of the hardest I have ever lived. I also encountered real magic and beauty within this place, within the people I met, and within myself. I didn’t think I was ready to take it all on. But I was, and I did, and it was good. I learned how to Be beside the seaside, and I can never doubt myself again (although there’s no promising I won’t… but it’s going to be a lot harder now!). This experience transformed me for the better. It burst me into bloom. I will be learning from it for the rest of my life, just as I was learning from it before I even made it here.
This isn’t just a goodbye. It is a “goodbye for now”. (And it’s also hello to home — and I missed home, and as hard as all of this is I’m happy to be coming back to all of the places and people I love there. See you soon, fingers crossed…!!) These are hard times. But I know we’re going to get through them together, no matter how distant (both physically, and… “socially”?) we are. To everyone, I met during my 7 weeks in Brighton, and to Brighton itself: thank you, thank you, thank you. For the ferocious hope, and all the rest. Until we meet again.
Reflect on the positive outcomes of your study abroad
Your study abroad journey may have been cut short, but that doesn’t mean you didn’t experience some life-changing moments. Maybe it was the first time you stepped off the plane in your host country and realized you were really “doing it.” Maybe it was during that first field trip where you looked around and thought, “I can’t believe this is my life.” Maybe it was when you finally were able to order from your favorite café in the local language.
Life-changing moments happen instantly and are often hard to notice when we’re in them. Use this time to reflect on the positive outcomes of your study abroad. Write them down in a journal, share your story on the USAC blog, scrapbook your photos, and simply spend some time going through all the amazing moments of your study abroad. Set a goal for writing down one positive moment from your study abroad every day. This will get your mind in the habit of focusing on the positive outcomes and not the sadness of having the experience end early.
Create “happy hour” meetups with your friends from abroad
One of the most cherished souvenirs we get from study abroad is the friends we make. Whether it’s other USAC students, other international students, or locals, study abroad friends end up being life-long friends because there is no one else who will ever fully understand the experience you had together.
A great way to combat feeling lonely is to continue to meet up with your friends. Did you have a routine of grabbing lunch together after class? Did you meet for gelato every day at 4 p.m.? Don’t let those routines fall out just because you’re not together. Sure, you can’t meet at your local gelato shop, but you can all grab some ice cream and hop on a Zoom or WhatsApp video call and enjoy the time together.
Talk to your friends, don’t just text
If you’re feeling lonely, a great way to cope is by talking about it. Sharing your feelings with others can make you feel better and you will most likely realize you’re not alone in the way you’re feeling.
The key to talking about your feelings is to actually “talk” to your friends. It’s common to take the easy route of texting a friend, but reach out to your friends, local and from study abroad, and let them know you need some FaceTime (literally, since you can’t see them face-to-face).
Give yourself time
“Time heals all wounds.” This quote is famous for a reason because it’s true. It might not look like it now, but things will get better, and you’ll start finding a new routine.
Everything takes time. You need time to adjust to create a new path in an old place. Your friends need time to adjust to you being home. Your mind and body need time to adjust to the shock of what you just went through. Don’t rush your recovery or your feelings. Let yourself take the time you need to heal.
Lean on the USAC team
When you participate in a USAC program you become part of our family. Our jobs are to be there for you before, during, and after your study abroad, and these times are no different. Keep in mind that nearly every person that works at USAC has studied abroad. So, while the COVID-19 pandemic is new for all of us, study abroad is something we’ve been doing for 35 years. If you have questions, want to connect with other alumni, or just want to chat, feel free to reach out to your program advisor, comment on our social media @studyabroadusac or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Seek counseling on your local campus
It’s important to note that feelings of loneliness are normal, however, if you begin to feel hopeless or overly anxious it’s okay and advisable to seek professional help, either from your university counseling center (if available) or local mental health professional. You should also seek help if your feelings cause you to withdraw from others (beyond social distancing) and are impacting your normal sleep habits.
We understand that many campuses are closing, and students are completing their semesters online, but many universities are still offering counseling services. Check-in with your local university to see if teletherapy sessions are available.
How to Stay Busy While at Home
While the above tips focus on mentally dealing with feeling lonely, as attitude is everything, don’t let social distancing stop you from getting involved in tasks that will keep your mind and body busy.
Here are some of our favorite suggestions for keeping busy while social distancing, some related to study abroad and some just in general.
- Continue learning your host country’s language. Don’t let those new language skills slip away. There are a variety of ways you can continue language learning online.
- Practice any traditions you learned with your current roommates (even if that’s your parents).
- Look at photos from your study abroad experience and make a scrapbook.
- Stay active. Practice yoga/meditation or go for a walk/run around your neighborhood.
- Read a book you’ve always wanted to read.
- Take a break from watching the news and going on social media – this creates more anxiety.
- Catch up on your favorite Netflix shows you couldn’t watch in your host country.
- Foster a shelter animal – The best type of quarantine buddy!
- Plan your next trip. Travel might be on hold now, but it won’t be on hold forever.
While we might not be able to study abroad or travel right now, the joys and experiences that come with studying abroad can never be taken away from us. We hope you’ll continue to join us in celebrating study abroad, sharing stories with your peers about your experience, and preparing for the day when we can hop back on a plane to head for a place unknown.