Now that Ashley is back from her semester on our Study in Granada Program, she shares the reality of coming home—and how difficult that can be. Read Ashley’s tips for how to move past the feeling of dissociation.
Coming back home after studying abroad is in short, weird. You stand in your airport at home and everything's in English and not the language you just spent the past four to five months speaking and seeing everywhere. The word I associated the feeling I had when I returned from studying abroad was dissociation.
Dissociation is defined, "as the disconnection or separation of something from something else or the state of being disconnected". I felt extremely disconnected from my surroundings and the people around me. My head was buzzing, I was tired, teetering on jet-lag, and still thinking in Spanish.
And suddenly everyone wanted personal space! What is this concept of us simultaneously existing in the same space but going to extremes to pretend we're not??? People don't sit next to you, but one seat away from you, stay at least two feet behind the person in front of you in lines, and, no, not everyone's willing to just talk casually.
I notice parts of Spain still sitting in me, rising to the surface in the way I touch someone's shoulder or arm in a goodbye. The one time I accidentally tried to do the two kiss thing, it was just extremely awkward, and I remembered that America is a hand-shake kind of place.
When resting in all of this weirdness, it can feel something like floating in a strange in-between and wondering who exactly understands what you’re experiencing. How you differentiate between the person you were at home before you went abroad, the person you were in the place you went abroad, and the person you are now that you’ve had so many new encounters. All of this accompanied by jet-lag can just feel plain annoying.
Yet, the key to all of this is patience.
It took me about two weeks to get back into being back home, readjusting to the time, readjusting to the culture in a slightly rebellious way because I felt my time abroad had changed me forever. I still feel this way.
My body spent quite a bit of time transitioning, too. Drinking water straight from Sierra Nevada kept my skin so clear people thought I was wearing makeup. Switching from the Mediterranean diet back to a more fatty-based, convenient, and quick American one took its toll, too. I was met with beautiful breakouts and stomach aches. Yet, I'm finding little ways to incorporate healthier parts of my diet in Spain into my meals here at home, and while I can't bring mountains with me for their water, breakouts don't last forever.
Now that my senior year has started and I'm back at school, I'm recognizing that this change is still occurring as I try to recall how to navigate this space I've known. It can feel a lot like you have nothing solid to hold onto because times in places and moments with the wonderful people you met, and even those you will meet, are so fleeting, but there are also resources available to you to assist you with your transition back to the United States.
My study abroad office held a re-orientation workshop designed to get students acclimated with life back on Brandeis' campus, culture, and more. More resources available here that are likely available at other schools include:
Study Abroad Ambassadors
Study Abroad Ambassadors are individuals who have studied abroad, understand the dissociative experience, and are willing to help. While there are Study Abroad Ambassadors, IES Abroad Ambassadors also exist to facilitate and aid in this space.
Your School's Counseling Center
Just as you wouldn't wait until a bone is broken to go see your doctor for a checkup, or until you have a cavity to go see your dentist for a teeth cleaning, you should also not wait to give attention to your mental health. Sometimes counseling is a way to simply release whatever weight has been building up, especially if you're having feelings you think your peers can't understand or relate to. If you feel that one-on-one sessions aren't your thing, that's fine! There are group sessions, too, that also help students share their experience collectively about reorienting themselves after their time abroad.
Your Peers From Your Time Abroad!
Don't forget all of the wonderful people you came across and came to know in your time abroad. They too are resources as they know exactly how you're feeling! Reach out via Facebook messenger, Whatsapp, or whatever social media platform you share and talk to them about what you're feeling. Nine times out of ten, they're feeling it too.
Though it can all seem a bit intimidating, the thing to keep in mind is to breathe, relax, and take things one step at a time. You can do this. Look at how much you've experienced in your time abroad, reflect on it, cherish it, and know you can handle whatever comes before you. And if you should need a helping hand, you now have friends in different parts of the world who are willing.
Want to read more from Ashley? Check out her student blog posts from her semester in Granada!