It’s 6:34 AM and you’re standing in Chicago’s O’hare airport. The immigration and customs line is moving rather quickly. You mentally take note of any items that you might need to declare. The officer waves you forward. He asks you where you’re coming from and you respond, “Germany.” As he looks over your passport and documents, he goes on to ask what was the purpose of your visit and how long you were there. And for a brief moment you flashback to the moment that you flew out of this same airport five months ago. All the faces you saw, plates of food that you ate, and history that you learned condenses into a three second flashback. You respond with studying abroad and that it was a little over five months. He stamps your documents and waves you on. Welcome back home.
How to Process Returning to The United States
Coming home, you’ll want to share with the world everything that you experienced. And if you’re like me, you’ll even still carry the foreign currency on your person just to use a conversation piece. Here are some things that you should keep in mind before returning to your old world.
You’ll Get Bored.
From having new adventures everyday and meeting people around the world, to back working at Pizza Hut part-time and hanging out with the same seven people over and over. For example, I was able to pay $6 USD and take an hour and half bus ride to Mexico City on a whim. Buses left every 15 minutes so there were days where I literally had nothing to do after class, so I would just go to the fourth largest city in the world and walk around. Once I came back to Springfield, I returned to taking my normal class load and didn’t have as much free time. Plus the public transportation in the U.S. is lacking compared to the rest of the world. My advice would be to join campus/ community organizations with people from the country you studied in. Look for locally owned restaurants from the country you studied in to go visit. Or even, start a blog or YouTube channel where you can have story time and share with others tips and tricks on how to navigate study abroad for your specific city.
You’ll See the World with New Eyes
With meeting hundreds of new people, you’ll see the world in hundreds of different ways. While abroad, I learned to adapt the mentality of, “It’s not wrong, it’s just different.” This was applied to politics, food, and even how people introduced themselves. There are definitely things that I would love for the U.S. to adopt for ourselves and there are things that I wish we would reform about our culture. When it comes to food however, this is something that I can do easily. From time to time, I’ll make carnita tacos, to remind myself of the wonders of eating authentic street tacos. For you it might look like video calling your host family every couple weeks or tagging the best friend you made while there in memes on Facebook. With these new eyes, just be sure to stay connected and continue to learn about your new culture so as to not simply revert back to how you were prior to your study abroad experience.
Relationships have Changed
This was by far the one I struggled with the most upon my reentry into the country. A lot can happen in five months, or in my case 15 months. Birthdays pass, friends go to concerts, road trips are taken, and even new friends are added to your group. However, it’s important to realize that you just lived and studied in a whole different country. You took overnight bus rides, slept in hostels, and traveled to places that some people only get to see on T.V. and Instagram. You went to open markets and tried grilled scorpion on a stick, you rode camels in the desert, and above everything else. You made friendships that will last a lifetime. Homes that will always welcome you with arms open every time you decide to come back and visit. The fear of missing out (FOMO) is very real. However, I can personally attest that the feeling of calling your friends in the country you studied abroad in to let them know you’re coming back and hearing them scream with joy, cannot even come close to the fear of missing out. I’ve traveled back four times since I left in 2017 and every single time it’s a new adventure.
Everybody is different. Some people adjust back to their lives seamlessly, others need a little time to process what exactly they just experienced. I know that I sure needed that time, especially after listening and speaking in Spanish for so long, it was weird even going back to English. Just take your time. Sort through all your photos and videos, finish mailing postcards, and look for organizations/ the local community of those from the country in which you studied. Remember, it’s okay to feel a little sad and miss your country, but keep in mind that you just lived an experience that most people only dream of. Embrace it and realize that there are still many more countries left to explore. Where will you go next?