If you’ve been following this blog for the past year or so, then you’re probably well aware that I spent the last academic year studying abroad at the University of Oxford in England. Why? Because I talk about it incessantly. Why? Because I had an amazing time. As you can imagine (and as this post made abundantly clear) coming back to the United States at the beginning of the summer was incredibly difficult. After working so hard to settle in a new place, make new friends, and integrate myself into the Mansfield College community, it was jarring to be suddenly uprooted and expected to return back to my usual life back in the States.
Everyone talks about culture shock when you’re preparing to go abroad, but few people discuss the idea of reverse culture shock: i.e., the process of returning back home and having to adjust back to old environments, activities, and customs. Today I’d like to give a few pieces of advice that will hopefully help others (and myself!) with their adjustment returning from studying abroad.
+ Give yourself a mourning period. This might sound dramatic, but I’m not joking. Leaving a place and people you dearly love is difficult, and you won’t be able to fully move on unless you allow yourself to feel all of the emotions you need to feel. Cry if you have to. Look through all of the photos you took and reminisce about the remarkable memories you made. However, be sure not to get stuck in this rut. Once you feel as though you’ve given yourself enough time to let off some steam, it’s time to start looking forward more often than looking back.
+ Accept where you are. Your study abroad experience is done. There’s no way to go back and recreate it. While embracing these facts is important, it’s equally essential to remember that just because something is over doesn’t mean you have to completely forget about it. Keep in touch with friends you made abroad, look fondly at the great times you had, and try not to lose the happiness and curiosity you exuded while you were there. It might feel like you’re in the middle of some in-between state, and that’s okay: you are.
+ Reach out. One of the things that helped me the most this past summer was reaching out to friends and family, both old and new. Staying in touch with the friends I made at Oxford was incredibly helpful because we were able to talk about how we were all feeling in the midst of this transition. You can imagine the relief we all felt once we realized that we were all riding similar rollercoasters of emotions. Likewise, reaching out to friends and family from home helped me turn my attention to the present and future. Not only was it fun catching up with everyone I hadn’t seen in months, but hanging out with old friends and spending time with family reminded me of what I love about home, too.
+ Keep busy. Whenever I’m stressed or sad, I try to be as productive as possible (fortunately, there’s plenty to do going into my senior year of college!). If you don’t have much work to do, at least try to get back into a regular routine. Get out of the house, visit friends, clean your room, read a book, reply to all of those emails you’ve been meaning to catch up on—whatever it is that needs getting done, do it. Staying busy is a good way to keep your mind off of missing being abroad; besides, your future self with thank you for it when your life is more organized!
+ Do things you love. Although my year at Oxford was amazing, I didn’t have a lot of free time to do the things I love to do back home (reading things not assigned for courses, writing, blogging, etc.). Diving back into these hobbies really helped me feel more like myself as I tried to reconnect with my life back home.
+ Share your experience. If you’re anything like me, sharing your experiences helps you think through them and process them better. Share stories with friends and family or even reach out to the Study Abroad Center at your college. Often they are looking for volunteers to share their experiences with students looking to see if studying abroad is the right fit for them. Also: if anyone tells you that you talk about studying abroad too much, don’t take it too personally. If this experience was important to you, then you have the right to talk about it (so long as it’s not done in an obnoxious way).
+ Things take time. This is not an overnight process. You may continue to feel sad or a bit lost for weeks or even months, and that’s okay. Eventually all of the pieces will settle down where they belong and things will feel less scattered. For now, just focus on taking it one step at a time.
I hope these tips help anyone returning from an amazing study abroad experience! It can be tough, but it gets better.
Click here to check out other posts in my Holly Goes Abroad series!
Have you ever had to transition back from studying abroad? Have any tips you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments section below!