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Adjusting to Life After Studying Abroad

May 04, 2020
by Asha Swann

Adjusting to life after studying abroad is harder the longer you stay abroad. Of course, if you’ve got the travel bug, then coming home after any time away can be tough. But it’s especially tricky if you’ve gone for a semester or a year, getting used to a new time zone, a new language, a new apartment, and a whole new culture. Adjusting to life after coming back home can be hard. All of a sudden your new schedule changes —  literally overnight. You go from stargazing in Seville back to waiting tables in Wyoming in the blink of an eye. But the same culture shock you experienced when you first touched the warm Mediterranean sand on the Greek coast has a reversal effect: re-entry shock is real, but definitely possible to minimize with some of these tips.

Don’t fight the reverse culture shock

You’ll feel the re-entry shock coming, so you’ll have to embrace it. It can be hard to accept that while you were overseas, the world kept going. Maybe you’ll come back and find out a family member just got divorced, maybe the seasons changed, your friend could’ve dyed their hair or pierced their nose. It’s important to remember that as much as everything else has changed: so have you. Your fashion sense could be different. Your brain could be struggling to adjust not translating everyone who greets you. But re-entry shock goes beyond that. Maybe your hometown makes you angry all of a sudden. You got used to the quiet electric European cars, but you can’t help but notice that your neighborhood is always loud. The smell of gasoline suddenly repulses you. And you’ll notice all sorts of new things about your hometown, but your friends will swear it’s been that way for years. Do restaurants in North America really close that early? What do you mean the train stops at 6 p.m. on Sunday? And how is it so impossible to find an authentic French pastry? All these new changes can feel unbelievably frustrating at times. But there’s no sense in fighting it. The more you do, the more annoyed you’ll get. Embrace the chance and talk to as many study abroad students as you can.


Connect with other students

Who can relate to you better than the people who have gone through the same thing? Talking with additional study abroad students can be incredibly helpful when adjusting to life back home. It can feel really isolating when you first get back to your home country. You’ve got all these new experiences and coming home is quite bittersweet. Talking to your friends about your time abroad is more than understandable, but can sound like bragging if you aren’t careful. Telling people you’re feeling upset and overwhelmed to be back home while also describing your incredible time abroad can accidentally make you seem ungrateful for your time away. This is the benefit of talking to study abroad students. If you don’t have anyone at your school who went abroad, check out some online groups. There are tons of study abroad student support groups online. You’re guaranteed to meet other students who feel the same way you do. It’s hard to describe in words exactly what re-entry shock is; it’s different for everyone. But one thing’s for sure: almost everyone goes through it in some way or another. The feeling of helplessness, being totally scatterbrained, and finding yourself frustrated at the teeniest of things are all symptoms of re-entry shock. It’s crucial to remember that expressing your feelings isn’t something to shy away from. You’re going through a huge physical and psychological change, and talking about your mental state doesn’t lessen your gratitude for your time abroad.


Keep learning about new cultures

Traveling and studying abroad are awesome experiences! It’s unbelievable how many cultures, cuisines, and languages there are out there. Having the opportunity to travel and study abroad is a life-changing privilege. Just because your time abroad has ended doesn’t mean the learning has to stop. One of the best ways to minimize your re-entry shock when you’re adjusting to life after studying abroad is to stay cultured! See if your local community center has language classes. Maybe a book club reads novels from all around the world. Listen to podcasts in a language you studied abroad. Many cities also have grocery stores that specialize in foods from other countries. See if your hometown has a Chinatown, Koreatown, Greektown, or Little Italy. In the summer, it’s very common for these neighborhoods to have fresh food markets or lively festivals. Sure, dancing the kalamatianós in Athens with ten complete strangers is certainly a moment that can’t be replaced, but there’s something unbelievably comforting about building new memories with the people in your community — the people who left the old country and would love to tell you all about the best parts of their culture.

Find out more about studying abroad in Seville.

Asha Swann is the Spring 2020 CEA MOJO Blogger in Paris, France, and is currently studying at Sheridan College.
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