“We travel because we need to, because distance and difference are the secret tonic to creativity. When we get home, home is still the same, but something in our minds has changed, and that changes everything.”
John Leher, Why We Travel
Dear Study Abroad Returnee,
I get it. It’s hard. You have just returned from the most epic journey of your life. How can anyone possibly understand what you have just experienced? As John Leher quotes, “…home is still the same, but something in our minds has changed, and that changes everything.” The routine of your old self is suffocating. The people around you brush off your adventure as if it was only a vacation, but little do they understand how much you have grown. How much you have seen. How much you have learned.
When you travel you realize how capable you are. That’s because when you travel you are forced to do things for yourself. You can’t be afraid to ask for help. What you claim to believe becomes challenged because you are out of your world and in the world where not everyone shares the same values. However, if they are what you truly believe in, they will come out stronger because it’s assurance of what you stand for. With that, you become sure of who you are. You start discovering things about yourself that you never have before, and become trying new things becomes easy. You become so accustomed to spontaneity, you start craving adventure. For once you become comfortable in your own skin because you no longer care what people think about you. You have to put away your pride and admit to not knowing, but be willing to learn. People then sense your curiosity and want to teach you. It’s hard returning because your back to the same routine, and your brain is no longer challenged.
You might feel lonely after returning, and you might think how in the world could anything top that experience? The anger and frustration becomes strong because you are in a battle between the new you and your old environment. You would give anything to have that moment back. However, you know it will never be the same again. That experience is over, so now what?
It’s okay you are feeling these feelings. “You’re mourning,” someone told me, “Mourning doesn’t just mean someone dear to you has died. It can be a place or an experience that you are missing that brought you joy.” And with that, I allowed myself to feel what I was feeling, and I didn’t feel guilty.
Reverse culture shock is real, and post study abroad depression is a thing. You feel alone because the journey that you embarked on is something only you experienced. When I returned, I didn’t even allow myself to rest. I went to straight to work so I didn’t have to think about it. I felt hopeless because I thought, “Wow I have experienced the highest point in my life. What else could possibly be better than that experience?” I would never have that time back, and that broke my heart. It came out in anger towards everyone around me. I was bitter for a good six months until I realized that my semester abroad was not it. I knew what I wanted even before returning home, and that was to return to England for third year. I wasn’t finished in England yet. There was a part that told me I had to make it happen.
It won’t last, the lonely. And see? Although your study abroad experience has ended, it will always be a part of you. It will forever teach you. It’s our challenge to find how we felt during our time abroad in everyday life. It’s difficult, but it will keep your mind growing and searching. Now, it’s time to finish what you’ve got to do in order to make what you want a reality. Therefore, finding your next adventure and working towards it. You know what you want even if the decision requires a huge risk. In the end if you truly want it, you’ll find a way to make it happen. Now be patient and diligent until it is time to go. Also, be patient with yourself. Love yourself during this lonely time because you need you. Feel the grief. Be sad and mourn, but just know you’ve got great things coming and adventures awaiting. You’ll be back with joy soon.
Shoutout to Laura for inspiring this post. See ya real soon roomie! Be happy always! Howdy!