We’ve all heard of culture shock, the expected reaction to the unfamiliar. But what about going home? Will I experience re-entry shock - the unexpected reaction to the familiar? As my departure date quickly approaches, I’ve been thinking more and more about my transition back to the United States. My abroad experience won’t end when I get off the plane; there will be a substantial period of readjustment to life back home and at university.
I’m currently having mixed feelings. It’s not that I don’t want to see my family and friends, or that I don't miss my university. It’s just that I've fallen in love with my daily routine in Barcelona, and I finally feel as though it’s my home-away-from-home. Things that I've taken for granted this semester are suddenly my favorite things. My commute to class, long chats with my host mother, wandering through new neighborhoods, discovering cool cafes and stores… the list goes on. Plus, my time abroad has been a time of tremendous growth given the intensity and novelty of the experiences I’ve encountered. The thought of leaving seems rushed… incomprehensible.
Before going abroad, we were warned that one of the most challenging stages of our study abroad experience would be returning home. The first few days back may be exciting, comforting, hectic, completely family-oriented… honestly a blur. But then, once life quiets down, I assume it may seem a tad boring. I mean, we have all been living in a foreign country - constantly encountering new ideas, perspectives, and experiences. We’ve adjusted to a new lifestyle despite cultural barriers, making social, intellectual and emotional tweaks to fit into our new environment. This semester has been a completely worthwhile challenge. I wouldn't change it for the world. And if I’m being honest, being back home surrounded by old routines sounds pretty dull.
There’s also the dilemma of sharing our experiences. It’ll seem as if people aren’t nearly as interested in hearing about our adventures as we are in sharing them. So many peers before me have said the same thing, “People asked me, 'How was studying abroad?' and I could never find the right answer. It was my life for four months. How am I supposed to sum that up?” Sure, an easy answer would be, “It was great. I learned a lot about myself.” Or, “To be honest, I am just happy to be home.” But it’s so much more than that. When we step off the plane in the U.S. and start getting bombarded with questions about our time abroad, our reactions will reflect a far deeper meaning than “it was good” or “it was bad”. Our reactions will reflect our short-and-sweet internalization of the last four months of our lives.
I also can’t fight the anticipation that my relationships with friends and family may be different upon my return. Just as I have been abroad for four months, everyone I know has gone on living their lives back home. Time didn't stand still, and I'm sure many aspects of their lives have changed as well. It's likely that abroad students' attitudes have changed towards some topics, so it's imperative to be flexible, patient, and open-minded when interacting with friends and family.
Many aspects of American society we may not have noticed before will appear seemingly out of nowhere. Most likely, the faults or weaknesses of the U.S. that have become obvious while living in an alternatively functioning foreign country. One of my favorite quotes from the book “The Sheltering Sky” perfectly explains this sensation. It reads, “Another important difference between a tourist and a traveler is that the former accepts his own civilization without question; not so the traveler, who compares it with others and rejects those elements he/she finds not to his/her liking.”
Being back home might not be as natural as we may think. It’s important to maintain a balanced cultural perspective and ease into life at home slowly. It sounds utterly ridiculous saying that, but the more I consider the magnitude to which I have changed makes me wonder how the idealized "new me" will fit into the fabric of my "old life".
Follow up will ensue in the following weeks.