Life after Living Abroad

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Did you study abroad last semester? Imagine traveling to a magical land filled with endless amounts of espresso and croissants. You’re surrounded by beautiful people and architecture and casually stumble upon one of the Seven Wonders of the World – the Eiffel Tower. This magical land is called Paris and I had the incredible opportunity of traveling and studying abroad there this summer.

As a Communication Studies major, having the chance to take a course in Paris was a once in a lifetime experience. It wasn’t just the course; it was being in a foreign country, roaming the streets, finding historical buildings, pretending to be Parisian on the metro and eating endless amounts of bread that all contributed to an irreplaceable experience.

My initial nervousness being in a foreign country faded and the culture shock turned into excitement. I got used to my new life and somehow the idea of leaving a country that was once foreign to me, became one of the most difficult parts of my study abroad experience.

If you have ever studied abroad or plan to in the near future, my experience is that while a great adventure awaits, there also be the hardship of the experience ending and returning home.

Transitioning to life after my experience abroad was harder than I thought it would be. To start, let’s talk about the jet-lag that robbed my body of energy as soon as I returned. I swear I slept for a week straight and most of my friends thought I didn’t make it back because I wasn’t answering their texts. I thought I’d be able to win the war against jet-lag but quickly found out I was very wrong. Along with the drowsiness came confusion–hopping in my car to go run errands and discovering I was on the opposite side of the steering wheel made me feel like I was in Driver’s Ed all over again. Sometimes I even realized I was handing a barista euros trying to pay for my coffee! And while we are on the subject, can I just acknowledge how strong, powerful, and bold the espresso is across the pond and how it’s completely irreplaceable here in the states?! It’s fascinating and disheveling to once again re-insert oneself into the ebbs and flows of life back in the U.S.

Have no fear, I’m here to help explore some of the main challenges of life after living abroad:

  1. Know that you are not alone…many students miss being abroad!

There’s something so beautiful about being able to call a foreign country home after just a few weeks. It’s so easy to create a routine in these foreign lands, and find a home away from home. As creatures of habit, saying goodbye to a routine proves to be quite difficult. What helped me was realizing that I could once again fall back into old routines, and even make new ones back home in the good old U S of A. With that being said, it is still okay to acknowledge the longing for the way things were. I found it helpful to remember that my peers who went abroad with me were having these same feelings of withdrawal and the urge to drop everything and catch the next plane to Europe was overwhelming for more than just me. Catching up with these friends and sharing memories as well as getting this close to buying a one way ticket helped me relieve some of the sadness of being back home.

  1. There is no “right” timeline for adjusting.

Everyone is different in how both they cope and how long it takes them to adjust from being abroad. It truly varies for everyone. For some, it can take as little as a week or two to readjust to their routine. While for others, a whole semester can be needed to get things back in order. Either way it’s completely normal. It could also depend on whether you’re coming back from an intersession or semester program. Both intersession and semester program students equally have their own challenges of finding their place back home. Don’t be in a hurry to get rid of the nostalgic feelings.

  1. Make a list.

As I started to pack my suitcase to head back home to the motherland, I made a list of what I loved most about my time in Paris as well as one that said what I missed about home. I used it as a reminder of the comforts that I forgot while living a European life of luxury. I know when I was abroad; good Mexican food was what my heart and soul ached for. But more importantly, I missed our campus and all the amazing people on it. I even really missed the Tu Mercado sandwiches.

  1. Be adventurous.

When I was living abroad, phrases like, “Oh, I’m heading to Barcelona for the weekend,” or “I’m just taking the train to London for the day,” became weirdly commonplace. Traveling abroad is so simple that I took it for granted, and once I got back home I ached for the adventures I was just having. The spirit of wanderlust took me on a wild ride and I couldn’t help but say yes to everything. When I got back home, I really tried to carry on that sense of adventure. It’s easy to become bored of our hometown because it feels like we have seen and done it all, but challenge yourself; find a new place – a coffee shop or a park to journey to. Yes, it might not be as grand as Monet’s gardens, but the curiosity and excitement of discovering something new is all the same.

  1. Recognize that things change.

Whether we want it to or not the world keeps spinning, and things change. Coming back from abroad, I felt out of place with friends who used to be my closest confidants. A lot happens on campus while we are away and the FOMO (fear of missing out) can really take its toll. But the same goes for students who decided to stay at USD–the ones who have been watching Snapchat stories of their friends frolicking through Italy with gelato in hand at all hours of the day are feeling like they missed out on something as well. We should ask ourselves how we can better relate when our experiences have been so entirely different? It starts with respecting everyone’s experiences, whether someone chooses to study abroad for a semester or a couple weeks, or to not to study abroad at all. Remember that everyone’s experience is unique and valuable, so embrace these differences by talking about what both experiences were like and how they felt. It will strengthen relationships and provide both parties with new and exciting perspectives. This can even lead to finding a new similarity within the differences of where we chose to spend our summer or semester. For example, even though abroad experiences may differ, there are consistent aspects of life that will always be the same: venting about challenging classes, giggling over cute classmates, or discussing ever-present roommate problems.

  1. Know the resources.

Sometimes we all need a little help finding our place  and that’s okay. USD is home to a lot of great resources that are always available to us. The International Studies Abroad office knows how to connect students who may feel disconnected after their return. The Center for Health and Wellness Promotion as well as the Counseling Center are two great places to find support – offices that provide for the emotional and physical well-being of students. Sometimes it just helps to talk, and these are all people who are here to listen.

Studying abroad is wonderful experience. And as with all things that come to an end it may be hard to say goodbye. Remember, coming back home doesn’t mean forgetting all the memories and friends – now I have the best of both worlds; a home away from home, and hundreds of pictures to prove it.