For me, coming back from abroad was weird. I didn’t have the “reverse culture shock” that they warn you about, but everything just felt kind of wrong to me. I guess the best way for me to describe how I was feeling is “deja vu”. I was doing the same things as I was doing before I went abroad, hanging out with the same people, living in the same place, taking classes (summer classes started 6 days after I got back from abroad — fun!), etc. But I was different. I had spent 4 months abroad, living a life that was all but ordinary, and every day abroad was interesting, somehow unique, an adventure. Coming back, nothing was an adventure, since I had done it all before. When I was abroad, I marveled at how activities as mundane as grocery shopping or taking the Metro were always exciting. In the US, these activities were not interesting, and I craved the excitement of being abroad, of seeing new places, speaking a foreign language all the time, and doing new things. After a few weeks of being home, the activities I considered “mundane” became routine again, and I slowly but surely readjusted to my normal American life. At the same time, I still missed being abroad. I kept in touch with my American and Spanish friends from abroad, and thought about my 4-month hiatus from reality frequently.
The following March, during my Spring Break, I went to Madrid and stayed with a Spanish friend and her family, and this trip was so surreal. It was a tease; I was abroad again, walking around my beloved Madrid, but after a week, I was on a plane again, headed back to the US to resume my Spring semester.
Being abroad was an amazing experience, and coming back gave me nearly inexplicable feelings of deja vu. I still miss being abroad, but I value immensely the perspective it gave me on the world and on myself.
Do’s and Don’t’s for Coming Back from Abroad
1. Don’t mope around looking at your abroad pictures 24/7 – Print out some of your favorites and hang them up, but that’s it.
2. Don’t succumb to jet lag – Yes, when I got home, I slept for 14 hours straight, but after that, I forced myself to resume a normal life and sleeping schedule.
3. Don’t talk about being abroad 24/7 – People care, but only to a point. After that point, you get unbelievably annoying, and you start to sound like a snob (“Well, when I was abroad…”). Keep most of your abroad commentary/comparisons to yourself, unless you’re asked to do otherwise.
4. Don’t leave your suitcases packed for weeks on end – As much as you might hope, you’re not going to be whisked away on a spontaneous European adventure anytime soon.
5. Do attempt to cook some of your favorite dishes from your abroad country at home. Not only will it impress your friends and family, but it’ll give you a reminder of your time abroad (and give you an excuse to talk a little bit about being abroad – but don’t push it!)
6. Do make a concerted effort to practice the language you learned when you were abroad – You will lose any language skills you gained very quickly if you don’t, and if you can imagine, this can be pretty upsetting, since you worked so hard to gain those language skills while you were away. Find people who also went to that country, and see if you can practice with them. Or, better yet, find a native speaker of your language of choice who might be willing to practice with you.
7. Do enjoy being home again! While you were away, there were things you missed about the US, so go do them! Meet up with your friends, watch that favorite TV show, eat that food your abroad country didn’t have, etc.