Returning Home

Dear Annika,

 The Christmas-y 'welcome home' that awaited me in the airport the last time I returned to Chicago.

The Christmas-y 'welcome home' that awaited me in the airport the last time I returned to Chicago.

And so the time has come that you’re heading back from your time studying abroad here in Spain. Such a bittersweet moment as you have to leave your newfound friends, family, and home for…well, your original friends, family, and home! Of course, I’m sure you’re looking forward to finally being reunited with them and you’re just bursting with exciting things to share with them. I definitely felt the same way upon my (many times of) returning home. However, there are a couple things I want to prepare you for (or at least assure you that you are not alone in, if you’re already experiencing them).

 

You’ll get the same questions over and over

If I had a dollar for every time I heard “How was Spain?” or “How was your trip?” I’d be far closer to paying off my student loans!  The truth is, everyone means well when they ask these broad questions and, unless you’re speaking with someone else who has studied abroad or who already knows a lot about your time in Spain, the reality is that they probably just don’t know what else to ask.

Although this will quickly become a tired question for you (and possibly make you want to scream “My ‘trip?’ Oh, you mean the last 5 months I lived, studied, and/or worked full time in a foreign country!”), I encourage you to cut your friends and family some slack.

1. Remember that you are among the very lucky people who have had the opportunity to live this experience! In Grandma’s time, it was practically unheard of to study abroad.

2. Keep in mind that if you only shared photos of traveling and going out (like most of us did), you can’t really blame people for believing that’s all you did, can you?

Instead of getting frustrated at this “lack of understanding” of your reality in Spain, simply fill them in! I imagine everyone will expect you to dive into a speech about the most jealousy-evoking destinations you traveled to. Instead, surprise them with some of the interesting details of your everyday life such as the funny things your little host-brother would say, your favorite local café where you went to study and got to know the owners by name, or what happened that time you forgot everything closed on Sunday and found yourself in a little pueblo with nothing to eat! People tend to be more responsive to answers like this because they can imagine what you were really going through and it will likely spark many more questions!

 

Everything will feel different…because everything will feel the same

My program and study abroad office prepped me for reverse culture shock and so I wasn’t surprised when I began to feel a bit ‘out of place’ in the everyday norms of America. What was a bit unsettling, however, was how strange it felt to come back to my family, my friend groups, etc and feel that I was different, but most everything else had stayed the same. Perhaps this is especially hard at the end of the semester when everyone tends to come home and fall into their old habits anyways. Or maybe it’s because everyone downplays the changes that have happened while you were gone in order to help you not feel like you missed out.  

Whatever it is, it makes you feel a bit more like an outsider—especially because you may start to feel uncomfortable in the changes you were previously so proud to have made. Although it may seem like the differences in you mean that you no longer fit into the space that was left for you back home, that’s not the case! My advice for handling this is two-fold.

 Even though you may want to discuss every moment of your study abroad experience, be sure to allow others to share their experiences, too!

Even though you may want to discuss every moment of your study abroad experience, be sure to allow others to share their experiences, too!

1. Resist the urge to go on-and-on about how much you have changed. I’m not saying that you should lie about how you feel, but this tends to make people tune you out rather than try to understand where you are coming from. Unfortunately, we all have the tendency to roll our eyes when we hear someone talking about how “now that I’ve traveled the world, I just feel so cultured—it’s like I’m a completely different person!” (I bet even you cringed a bit at how that sounded, didn’t you?) Remember this and try to find ways to honestly express how transformative your time abroad has been, without sounding pretentious or pedantic.

2. Take genuine interest in finding out how things HAVE changed back home! Living abroad is a bit of a bubble in a sense that every little accomplishment feels huge, simply because it was accomplished in a foreign land and language. You are therefore very aware of how far you’ve come in the last semester (give or take) but you shouldn’t only focus on this! Your friends and family have had the exact same amount of time for life’s ups and downs and they will want to share these with you, if encourage them. If all you do is talk about yourself, however, they’ll be less likely to open up about it. Be sure that your attitude shows them you are interested!

Of course, there are plenty other feelings and obstacles that will come up as you adapt back to life at home and we will continue to share our thoughts and experiences on that as we go on. However, I hope these insights and tips will help you face the first wave of returning home! Keep us posted on how you’re doing!

Sincerely,
Spain