About two weeks ago I boarded the airplane to leave Merida. While I sat in the airport, waiting to board, I couldn’t stop crying and I couldn’t stop thinking about how I had cried four and a half months earlier in the San Antonio airport waiting to start my study abroad journey. I had just had to say goodbye to my boyfriend, my parents, my kitten (who I wouldn’t have the chance to see throughout her kittenhood–yes, it’s a thing), all of my friends, and my precious Texas. I remember thinking about how much I was going to miss out on and how much I was going to miss everything and everyone. I thought I wasn’t going to make any friends in Mexico. I thought about how alone I was going to be for the next semester.
Leaving Merida, I thought back on all my experiences from the semester and laughed about how wrong I was that day in the San Antonio airport. I never would have imagined that I would be crying even harder on the way back home. The whole way home I couldn’t come to accept that I was really leaving. I flew through AeroMexico, a Mexican airline, so I heard only Spanish all the way through the trip (a 24 hour trip, gross). I had a 14 hour layover in Mexico City. It wasn’t until I stepped off the plane and a man asked me if he could help me with my bags (in English), that it really hit me that my study abroad experience really was ending.
These two weeks have been really hard on me. English instead of Spanish, dollars instead of pesos, cold “hellos” instead of a warm hug and a kiss on the cheek when greeting people. Surprisingly, all of THESE things seem foreign to me now. I still get a little teary-eyed every time I receive a WhatsApp message from one one my friends from Mexico or when I see what they’re all up to on Facebook. I can’t seem to stop starting my sentences with, “This one time in Mexico,” or “In Mexico, it’s like this.” I know my friends are getting sick of me, but I truly can’t control it! I learned so much and grew so much and got so used to the Mexican culture.
Day by day it gets a little easier and things start to feel a little more normal. Here are some of the things I would recommend to study abroad students upon their return home to make the transition smoother:
-Find people to practice the language with. Keep learning! Keep improving! You don’t have to be in a foreign country to practice it. It’s not easy learning a language, and it would be such a shame to lose it after so much hard work. Plus, there’s a sweet comfort in speaking that language that. In a way, it makes you feel like you’re back in your host country.
-Keep in touch with the people you met in your host country–your host family, your friends from the university, the other students that were in your study abroad program. It’s good to keep your relationships with the people who were there while you lived all that you did, who were there while you grew and changed, who saw what you saw, who experienced what you experienced. It can be rough not having anyone at home who truly understands how much your time in your host country meant to you. It has really helped me being able to fall back on my study abroad peeps, especially the other IFSAs who are going through exactly what I’m going through right now as we try to adjust to the reverse culture shock.
-Acknowledge and accept that things are going to be different when you get back. Your relationships will be different. YOU will be different. If you expect everything to be exactly how you left it, you will be disappointed.
-Establish a new routine. What will be most difficult is that you might feel a little bit lost now that you’re thrown back into your life at home after having a completely different routine while abroad.
-Get excited about what’s next! Don’t dwell too much on the fact that your semester abroad has come to a close. So much lies ahead! GET EXCITED ABOUT IT!