Here’s something we all should talk about: re-entry. Something that seems so casual, so normal; going back to the way you were before you went abroad as if nothing had changed…
Except, everything has changed. I remember sarcastically discussing the re-entry slide on a presentation at my abroad organization’s farewell dinner. Why would we talk about going home before we’ve even left? I have been going home for years, and that’s always been the easy part.
Things are as you left them, except they aren’t.
Your family is as you left them, except they aren’t.
You’ll pick back up where you left off, except you won’t.
That farewell presentation started a ball rolling in the back of my head. Why would they bring this up? Is this something I should worry about? I anxiously asked an older friend who had been abroad. She explained to me as best she could that the return trip home was familiar and foreign all at the same time. Your family and friends still exist, even in the same setting, but they weren’t privy to all the inexplicable moments and all the things your eyes witnessed outside of the United States and outside of your comfort zone. They’ve had their own struggles—with employment, with health, with relationships—because of course their life didn’t stop just because you weren’t there.
When you see this slide, with all this information and all these resources on how to readjust to life back in the States, don’t laugh it off like I did. But also don’t let it panic you. I am speaking from my subjective experience and, while yours may be different, I want you to know this:
It’s hard. Hard in a sense that every day you are unsettled, wondering why you were a piece of a puzzle that fit into your life at home before, and now you are morphed, not fitting, not understanding. How do you find the words to personify how at peace you felt walking down the streets of a beautiful foreign city? How do you make someone feel the joy you felt when successfully navigating a new situation or new relationship? How do you help others understand that you created your own life in another country all by yourself, but had to abandon it a mere five months after its creation? I’m still looking for these answers.
What’s important is that you take time to process these things; why your life feels disjointed, why people don’t seem as thrilled to talk about your host country as you are. It’s alright to feel confused, frustrated, and even homesick for a country that is not home.
If you’re anything like me, you have looked through all your abroad pictures, and only made yourself upset because you are no longer there. Instead, it’s important to remind yourself how lucky you are that you managed to spend that time abroad, despite whatever difficulties you may have faced.
Use your experiences to encourage others to study abroad. A great way to keep reflecting on your time abroad is to work with your study abroad office at your home university—they always want to hear your stories, and could always use extra help with events like study abroad fairs. Getting involved with your external study abroad program can also help you continue to use your experiences to help others. Instead of letting re-entry overwhelm you, take steps to alleviate the discomfort and confusion.
Now, looking at abroad pictures fills me with pride, because I made that semester happen for myself by myself, and I managed to see more in five months than some do in their entire lives. As time passes, you’ll find closure with a sense of happiness and accomplishment, just as I have.
Ciara Williams is a student at Brandeis University and studied abroad with IFSA-Butler at the University of Melbourne in Australia in Spring 2016.