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The Realities of Returning Home from Study Abroad

meghan h 4

The view from my classroom...this definitely doesn’t look anything like New Jersey and took some getting used to! Studying abroad is an amazing and oftentimes life-changing experience. You spend months of your life in a foreign country -- eating new foods, meeting people from different walks of life, and maybe even speaking a new language. You may acquire a newfound sense of independence or confidence, and your perspective on things might even change a little. Sadly, this experience must come to an end eventually.

Here are some common problems you may face when returning home and some tips on how to cope with and overcome them.  

1. It's common to experience reverse culture shock or when you struggle adjusting back into your home culture. It’s crazy to think that you can spend your entire life in one culture and quickly become used to a very different culture in just a few weeks or months. I had a friend who studied abroad in Italy for a semester and she said she could not believe that everything was in English, like a magazine on her coffee table for example, upon arriving home. You may find things such as seeing the American flag all the time or waking up in your own bed really weird.

Remember these feelings are 100% normal and will not last forever, although it may feel that way sometimes. Allow yourself to feel the way you feel rather than trying to fight it. Look at the positives, like how lucky you are to have experienced a culture different from your own firsthand. 

2. You may long for your time abroad and miss the friends you made or the routine you fell into. Toward the end of your study abroad experience, you may be ready to go home and see all your friends and family, but don't be surprised if you are wishing you could go back once you're adjusted. By the end of my nine weeks abroad, I was more than ready to be back to the everyday life I was used to in New Jersey, but I definitely had several rough days where I wished I could be back in France eating macarons or swimming in the French Riviera. 

Keep busy with getting ready for your next semester or the summer, spending time with friends and family, and adjusting back into your usual routine! It may take some time, but you’ll get there! Although talking to the friends I had made in France and looking at pictures and videos really helped me, these things could be upsetting to other people at first – so figure out what works best for you. Remember your time abroad fondly and keep in mind you can always go back one day! 

The street one of the IAU schools was on 3. People are going to be excited to hear about your time abroad… at first. Shortly after returning home, you may find people asking about your experience and losing interest quickly or are just not interested at all. Don’t take this personally; no one except the people you were with know firsthand what an amazing experience you had, so it may be hard for people to relate, especially if they never studied abroad.

If you can, talk to people who have gone abroad, like siblings, cousins, or friends. My older brother studied abroad for a semester in Amman, Jordan, so he understood the excitement and sadness I was going through both when I initially returned home and when I still felt it months later.

Contact your study abroad office, because a lot of schools have meetings for past study abroad students to get together and talk about their time abroad and readjusting to life in the U.S. Also, consider speaking to prospective study abroad students at your home campus and/or becoming an Alumni Ambassador with CEA!

Don’t get down on yourself if it takes a few days or even weeks to feel back to your old self. Returning back to school in the fall with a new schedule and less downtime than before definitely helped me. With that being said, do not rush back into your routine at home too quickly. It is going to take some time to get back into the routine of things. Allow it all to happen as it happens. Find the outlet that relieves stress for you, whether that be journaling, exercising, hanging out with friends, or looking at pictures/videos from abroad! No matter what, you’ll always have the memories of your time studying abroad to remember and cherish forever.

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