Study Abroad

Life After Study Abroad: How to Readjust

So you’ve reached the end of your time studying abroad, and are getting ready to go home. You’ve been homesick at many points while you’ve been away, and despite having a wonderful time, you’re beyond excited to go back to the comforts of your home and share all your travel stories with friends and family.

Airplane:rikahi

Jumping back into life back home, however, may not be as easy as you think. If you’re like many students, you might  find that routines and practices that once felt natural to you may now feel unfamiliar and strange – a “reverse culture shock.” Also, family and friends you’ve missed while away might seem more difficult to relate to than before, making you feel like a stranger in your own home. This can be frustrating, to say the least – isn’t being home supposed to feel good?

If you’re about return home from studying abroad or will be returning soon, here is some key advice from a former student traveler that will hopefully make re-acclimating to life back home a little easier.

Take some time to rest

Once you step off the plane, it’s easy to feel bombarded with many emotions, responsibilities, and activities. For one, you may feel utterly exhausted and jet-lagged after traveling for an extended period of time across time zones. You’ll have bags to unpack, and will likely need to settle back into your home. On top of all of this, your friends and family will probably want to see you as soon as possible.

This is certainly a lot to deal with at once, and it’s important to take care of yourself in the meantime. If possible, some time for personal reflection and rest can help put you in the right mindset to deal with this new and sudden shift back to your old life. I know that if I could go back, one thing I would do differently would be to take more time alone to sit or lay down, take a deep breath, and reflect.

If you keep a journal, this would be a great time to write down some of your thoughts and reflections regarding your experience abroad and what you are most nervous about moving forward.

Keep your experience alive

While readjusting to life back home, it’s common to feel sad that the study abroad experience has come to an end – I know I did. You may feel the desire to pack everything up and go back, and while it may not be possible to do so right now, there are ways to keep the excitement and emotions of your experience alive and in the forefront of your mind.

Before you become too busy, try to get your photos and videos organized in a digital or actual photo album. Also, consider writing down some of your favorite stories in a journal. As someone who has continued traveling after college, I really enjoy comparing more recent travel experiences with those I had in college, and it’s interesting to see how my mindset and perspectives have changed over time. Overall, having both visual and written accounts of your time abroad will be great in the future for if you’re feeling nostalgic and want to revisit those special memories.

Lastly, it’s important to stay in touch with the friends you made abroad as you move forward in life. Aside from being passively connected through social media, make it a point to e-mail or Skype with your friends overseas once you are home. Your friends will be surely be glad to hear from you, and you will be thankful you kept in contact when you travel abroad again and can visit them.

Be mindful of how and when you share

When you meet up with friends and family after coming home, you may feel excited and enthusiastic to share as much as you can about your experiences abroad. Understand, however, that aside from people’s general questions about how things went overseas, you might find that not everyone will show genuine interest in hearing every detail.

The important thing here is not to take others’ lack of enthusiasm personally, and to not feel frustrated. Based on my personal experience, it’s not that your friends and family don’t care about you, but sometimes it’s difficult for others to relate if they weren’t there with you to share the excitement. To be safe, try your best to keep your storytelling to a minimum and only when it directly fits into the conversation at hand. It can certainly be difficult to contain your excitement to share, but there are certainly spaces that are more appropriate for you to do so.

For example, consider stopping by your college or university’s study abroad or international education office. For one, you’re likely to come across other students or staff who have spent time abroad and who would love to exchange stories with you. Furthermore, they may have informational events scheduled for prospective study abroad students, and there are usually opportunities for former study abroad students to present and share their experiences in a slide show.

Also, consider getting involved in the online student travel community. There are many forums and websites that encourage travelers to tell their stories and to provide advice for future travelers, and you’ll likely find satisfaction in being able to do so.

Overall, it feels good to be able to connect with others who share the passion for travel. Tapping into resources that encourage these interactions is something that I’ve personally benefited from, and would definitely have done more if I could go back to when I came home from a year overseas.

Get involved on campus

One aspect of studying abroad that many students may miss after returning home is the chance to meet people from all around the world and become introduced to new cultural practices and traditions. Luckily, you don’t necessarily have to travel to have international and multicultural experiences. There are opportunities you can take advantage of right on campus if you make an effort to get involved. This is an aspect of re-acclimating to life at home that helped me considerably, and one I can’t recommend enough.

Utilize your college or university’s office of student involvement to find a list of student clubs and organizations on campus. Look for clubs that fit into this spectrum, such as cultural clubs, international clubs, anthropology clubs, or foreign language clubs. Once you sign up for these clubs, you’ll be kept in the loop about events, excursions, and get-togethers, all of which will give you opportunities to connect with others who share your interests and participate in activities that you’re bound to enjoy.

Can’t find a club or organization that fits into what you’re looking for? Consider starting one yourself! Many colleges make it fairly simple for students to start a new organization, and this could be something great to put on your resume in the future.

Plan future travel

As great as connecting with fellow travel-minded individuals and seeking out multicultural and international experiences can be, sometimes it can be really difficult to ignore the strong desire to travel more once you get home – the “travel bug.” While you may not be able to travel while you’re busy finishing your degree, what helps many people (myself included), is to simply plan more travel. As an undergraduate, there are opportunities you can look into that will open up future travel opportunities.

For example, if you are planning on going to graduate school, consider applying to a program that’s either located at a university overseas or has students conduct research for their thesis or dissertation overseas. Also, the Peace Corps has partnered with more than 90 schools around the U.S. to combine graduate school and volunteering overseas. In their Master’s International program, students can complete one year of studies on campus, and then go abroad for two years to work on a project volunteering with the Peace Corps.

Another way to open doors for future travel is to get TEFL certified through your college or university while you are an undergraduate. Once you graduate, you’ll have many possibilities to travel as the demand for qualified English instructors is relatively high in many countries around the world.

As someone who has graduated from college and has the travel bug, what helps me the most is always having a next travel goal in mind and making slow steps toward reaching that goal.

Utilize your new knowledge and skills

As outlined in the article “How to Highlight Your Study Abroad Experience in a Job Interview,” there are many great ways to translate your experience overseas into desirable job skills that many employers look for. Take some time to identify stories and encounters from your time overseas that align with skills outlined in this article, and you may have a pretty good chance at impressing your future employer during a job interview. For example, in my experience, I have been able to use my study abroad experience to portray my independence, adaptability, and enthusiasm to learn new things.

Overall, the communication and cross-cultural skills you gained while studying abroad can be very relevant in everyday life in terms of being a sensitive and empathetic individual, both in the context of the college campus and society as a whole. With an in-depth knowledge of individual and cultural differences, you now have the heightened ability to see things from others’ perspectives. If you make an effort to utilize this skill, you’ll be surprised at the great connections you’ll make and the unique opportunities you’ll come across.

Some final advice

While this advice may help ease some of the frustration and internal struggle associated with re-acclimating to life back home after studying abroad, this is largely based off of my personal experience and there’s no guaranteed method to making this process less difficult. Every student’s situation and experience is unique, and what has worked best for me may not necessarily work best you. In the end, the important thing is to keep in mind that having difficulty transitioning is completely normal, but in time life will become much easier.

Do you have any questions about re-adjusting to life back home after studying abroad, or have advice to share with others? Feel free to post a comment below!

Photo credit: rikahi/morguefile

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The Author

Dave Harriman

Dave Harriman

Dave Harriman, SHRM-CP, has a background in human resources, anthropology, and international education. His experience teaching English abroad during a gap year as an undergraduate student in Spain ignited his passion and advocacy for student travel. As a human resources professional, Dave is interested in helping students prepare for future career growth, and for helping facilitate social & cultural inclusion in the workplace.

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