Let’s be honest, coming home is hard, especially if you’ve been abroad for a long time.Regardless of how long you spent overseas, we can guess that just like culture shock, there are going to be a few ups and downs that you go through.Regardless of how many times you’ve travelled, or even if you’ve studied abroad before, each experience is processed differently and you’ll likely go through this each time you come home.
Stage 1: Euphoria (AKA So Excited to Be Home!)
Yes! You’ve probably been thinking about this for a hot minute – what is your first US meal going to be? OMG fastWiFi! Your dog is going to be so excited to see you!
Like when you first arrived in your host country, you should ride this wave of excitement to be home. You have a lot to catch up on with family and friends, it will be so nice to be back in a country where you speak the language and understand the culture, and to finally be able to stream the new season of Kimmy Schmidt.
Stage 2: The Crash – Part A (AKA Nobody Cares)
“OK, so there’s this place in London, in Earl’s Court, called Star Kebab, and I swear it is the best food that I’ve ever had. Have you heard of a kebab? It’s like a gyro but like at Star Kebab it’s Indian food and the people there are really nice and another cool thing is that it’s in Earl’s Court which is likeboguie, but not bougie like Kensington. Speaking of Kensington..”
This is how you will want to describe your study abroad experience – in painstaking detail, making sure that your friends and family know every experience you had, how important they were, and how much you lived like a local. You’ll want to show them the 5,000 photos that you took, and describe in excruciating detail why each and every one of those photos is important.
It’s understandable – you’ve had an amazing experience. But the reality is that your friends and family don’t care. Well, it’s not that they don’t care – it’s that they probably don’t have a frame of reference, and they likely won’t understand the context in which your experience happened.
Here’s what a typical conversation would like with your friend. Let’s call her Tina.
Tina: “Hey, how was Tanzania”
You: “Oh, it was so amazing! We did so many cool things.”
Tina: “Neat, did you see an elephant?”
You: “No, actually I visited a clinic…”
Tina: “Oh, that’s cool! Hey, did you hear that Ryan and Sophie broke up?”
And that’s it. So, what can do you?
Stage 2B: The Crash Continued (AKA I guess I’ve changed?)
For most of us, a study abroad experience has some effect, and for many of us, living in and experiencing another culture is the first time that we’ve had to question our own identity and what it means to be American (or whatever your nationality might be). We learn that there are things aboutother parts of the world that we like better, and things about our homes that we love. There are things about our host countries that we miss, and things we hope we never experience again.
So, what do you do?
Stage 3: Equilibrium (AKA the Reconciliation)
Just like when you were abroad, you’ll eventually find a way to reconcile your experiences. Here are some tips on how to do that:
First, stay in touch with people from your program – after all, you have shared experiences. You can go to a hotpot restaurant and complain that it just doesn’t compare to hotpot in Beijing, or that a Cuban sandwich in the US just isn’t the same, or that the Guinness in the US just doesn’t taste the same as in Dublin.
Next, continue to journal. Reflect back on your entries that you wrote while you were abroad, and continue to write about the feelings and experiences you are having now that you are back in the US, or wherever your call home.
Seek out others who studied abroad. Even though they might have studied in different countries, it’s helpful to surround yourself with others who have had similar experiences. They’ll be equally as interested in hearing your stories as you are in hearing theirs!
Finally, find ways to get involved on campus or at home. In most cities, you can find volunteer opportunities to work with international populationslocally. Pitt Study Abroad has workshops and volunteer opportunities that will help you debrief and give you the chance to work with students who are getting ready to go abroad, too!