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Advice on Heading Home from Across the Pond

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If “home sweet home” isn’t how you’d describe your return, know you’re not alone. Beyond these tips on transitioning to home, I’ve added to the ultimate re-entry guide.

Your time abroad has been life-changing - to say the least. Keep that new sense of confidence, independence, open-mindedness, and passion alive upon re-entry. It’s beautifully and devastatingly true that nothing compares to your time abroad. But it’s also true that endless opportunities can be achieved from it once you’re home.

Home was a small town in Wisconsin for me, but thanks to CEA, home is across the pond in Barcelona too. I said adios to cava and paella along the Mediterranean Sea for home in the Midwest, where cheese and beer are best. Initially, I was excited to be surrounded by no exchange rate, and “normal” coffee cup sizes. But I quickly grew to adore hearing Catalan while admiring how pretty euros were compared to dollars. Plus, morning espressos from Javier were a necessity as I was heading for the metro that had likely already taken off. Which brings me to my first tip: stay busy.

Stay busy, but take time to adjust back to reality. Stay busy, because it’s easy to be bored with the norm where familiarity thrives. Stay busy with family and friends, stay busy with work and school, and challenge yourself everyday similar to when you were abroad. Try new restaurants, visit new domestic cities, and get out of your comfort zone while you’re still eager and able to see and do as much as you can. If you’re struggling with keeping yourself busy, check out CEA’s ideas on what to do when you’re home.

Something that helped me was by simply writing about my time spent abroad. It was helpful when I needed to market myself for new jobs by reflecting upon my international internship. This leads me to my second tip: create a strong resume, cover letter, and portfolio for future endeavors. A stellar LinkedIn account wouldn’t hurt, either. This way you can connect with other alumni while professionally moving forward in your field.

A resume, cover letter or portfolio with proof of your international network is as bold as it gets. Seriously. I’m not promising (I wish I could) you’ll for sure get the job since you spent a few months in Berlin. But I will promise that you’re already ahead of the applicant who graduated from University without multicultural experience. It’s important to take the time to reflect during your transition home, since your experience is fresh in your mind. Something else worth creating, in my opinion, is a playlist of music or a photo album to look back at occasionally that reminds you of your host country or city. (Check out CEA’s Spotify playlist, curated with students’ favorite travel music as well as tunes named for each of CEA’s study abroad destinations.)

Tip number three is to talk with others who have studied abroad. It’ll help you while helping them too.

If you have friends who have also studied abroad or are even thinking about it, catch up with them -- and I’m sure they’ll even have a few stories or questions to share as well. It’s normal to want to talk about the best moments of your life, and it’s also normal to feel like you’re overdoing it since the people you’ve experienced it with aren’t usually there to chime in with your friends back home. I know it really helped me realize I was finally content with being home after I traveled with one of my closest friends, and he went through that reverse culture shock we’re all familiar with. It helped us both to have someone who knew what such an incredible experience felt like, without feeling like you’re bragging or boring your friends who weren’t there.

This might be the most important tip of all, but don’t be afraid to show off the “new you.” Whether it’s new geography, words, or history you’ve learned from your trip; how to navigate public transportation through basically any city since you did it in one that wasn’t even your native language; being confident in striking up conversations with new people; and so much more. Another tip that ties with that is to definitely keep in touch with your friends from abroad. Hopping on a plane and taking impulsive trips to be with the people who got to travel to parts of the world some might never see is really something. Here are some of my pictures that prove study abroad friends, CEA specifically, can be friends for life -- even if you only see them a few times a year. Plus, those few times might be in some brand new places to cross off your bucket list.

Spring Break 2018: Road-tripped to the Grand Canyon to visit one of my Barca roomies at the U of A, with another roomie from California.

August 2018: Part of our “Barca squad” had to see what Vegas was all about since we already thrived in Barcelona together.

You’ll carry your experience abroad with you for the rest of your life. Although most of us won’t be physically in our second home as much as we’d like, it’s amazing that back home in Milwaukee, there’s so much that reminds me of Barcelona. When I returned home and started a new job, I was sweeping the sidewalk one day. A voice beside me spoke with a Spanish accent and without thinking before answering, I responded to his question with “si.” His accent catapulted me back to Barcelona and I didn’t even notice it until after. It was a nice conversation that left me with a sonrisa (smile) later on.

Taylor Coulson is a CEA Alumni Insider who completed a study + internship abroad program in Barcelona in 2017. She studied Intercultural Communication and Journalism at the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee. 
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