Returning home after your study abroad program can be trickier than you might first imagine. If you find yourself struggling with reverse culture shock, give this tried-and-true advice a go.
1. As a result of your travel and self-exploration, you likely will be a much different person than you were before you studied abroad. This can be tricky to navigate, as people and places continue to change no matter where in the world you are. For example, coming back to my large friend group at school was surprisingly difficult after spending so much time on my own, halfway around the world. You (like me!) may not fit into the mold of your past self, and whether it was cast by you or those you surround yourself with, the best advice that I can offer is to welcome this change. Much like moving to a new country, it can be confusing and unsettling to lack certainty, but you cannot become the best version of yourself if you don’t allow yourself the opportunity to grow. You will be different! And that is OK!
2. Keeping that in mind, welcome external changes as much as internal ones. I so loved sitting in cafes and people watching while in Paris, so coming home I sought out places where I could do the same. When things get hectic or I feel that I need to re-center, I find a good cup of coffee and a second to be still and observe the movement around me. Consider activities that you enjoyed while studying abroad and bring them home with you.
3. Returning home can sometimes feel a bit underwhelming, compared to the major life changes you’ve experienced recently. Avoid feeling stuck by exploring your home city the same way you navigated a foreign one. There are bound to be places that are new to you… usually places right in your backyard that you have long overlooked. In my case, I re-visited my favorite art museums in Philadelphia. Seeing the artwork after studying abroad was like experiencing it for the first time all over again.
4. Shortly after returning home, I found that having lived abroad for four months was much less relevant than I expected. I wanted to share my experience with anyone who would listen… but not many people really wanted to hear about “that one bike tour in Amsterdam” or “the time I went on a class wine tasting in Germany.” To reminisce on these special moments, I use a group chat with my friends from France, and I have a consistent email thread with one of my favorite professors. In short: keep in touch with friends and professors from abroad.
And lastly, who says you can’t go back? If you fell in love with your study abroad location, make a point to visit again or to continue your travels. Staying connected with CEA through the Alumni Ambassador program allows you to apply to be an Onsite Ambassador and return to your study abroad city as a CEA intern. You also receive a “Go Abroad Again!” discount for future studies within the program. Setting a goal to work your way toward returning can be motivating, and it is definitely well worth the reward.
Abigail Haley is the Fall 2018 CEA MOJO Blogger in Paris, France, and is currently studying at Ithaca College.