You lived, you learned, you loved. Now you are back at your home campus and in a total funk. What happened to the campus you used to love and why is everyone rolling their eyes when you start telling hilarious study abroad stories? Coming back home after going abroad can be a surprisingly weird experience and it’s normal to experience reverse culture shock. While it’s great to look back fondly on your time abroad, it’s not okay to spend the next semester sitting on your couch all day, wearing a beret and watching Eiffel Tower specials on TV.
So, wow, can you reconcile your international experience with your stateside college life?
You first need to discard the expectation of total familiarity. Some things have likely changed at your college/home while you were away and you will have some catching up to do. Some changes are positive (a new dining hall or library) and some will be negative (a falling out in your old group of friends, your crush dating what’s-her-face). Remember that spending a semester in a foreign country required some sacrifice, but the experience was worth it.
The most important thing is to find a way to incorporate the positive aspects of your time abroad with the positive aspects of your campus or home life. You can join a culture club or conversation group, share your experiences with other returning students, or broaden your academic interests. I changed my minor to French and Francophone studies as a result of my time in Paris. This decision permitted me to keep practicing my French and benefit academically from the social and cultural knowledge I acquired while abroad.
Talking about your experience abroad can also present some challenges. The first thing to remember is to remind your friends and family that even though you enjoyed your experience, they were missed. Don’t forget to ask them about their semester since they surely have adventures of their own to share with you. Also, remember that not everyone has the opportunity to study abroad and factor this in to your conversation so that you sound appreciative about your experience — and not like you’re bragging.
If there are common misconceptions about the place where you were, it may be a good idea to prepare short answers to frequently asked questions. This way you won’t be caught off guard when people ask you questions that may sound ignorant (“Does everyone eat French fries in Paris?!”) or somewhat offensive.
While this might seem obvious, remind yourself that not everyone wants to hear about your semester abroad non-stop. You should generally wait until you are asked before you bring it up, or at the very least, only talk about it in moderation. If you really feel home-away-from-home sick, find places where you can talk about your experience with other students with international experiences. You might also think about counseling students going abroad next semester by participating in a panel or forum. You are a valuable source of information for your fellow jet-setting classmates!
You can also trade your non-stop commentary for more fun ways to share your experience with friends and family. Cook them traditional dishes you enjoyed, teach them a card game you learned, or share some new music with them.
Lastly, seize the opportunity to see your campus with a fresh set of eyes. You have most likely developed new attitudes, habits, beliefs and goals. Use your experience to see your campus life more objectively and to make even better decisions.
As long as you accept that things won’t be exactly the same when you come back home and incorporate the best aspects of both experiences into your life, you can minimize reverse culture-shock.