01 May 2016

Exchange Never Has To End

Well, sort of. You will have to get on that plane, but that doesn't mean the experience is over. Coming home is usually awesome in some ways, but awful in others. I had really bad reverse culture shock and I know I'm not the only one, so here are some tips for getting through the rough times.

1. Remember that you don't have to be the same person you were last year.
People grow and change. You did a whole lot of growing and changing in the last year, and you're probably about to do some more. You may find that you still fit right in with your old friends and enjoy your old activities, or you may find that you need something different. Don't be afraid to join a new club, make new friends, or pursue a different path from your peers. You and your old friends may find your ways back to each other eventually, or you may all be at the start of a new chapter. Either way is great.

2. Be deliberate about reintegrating.
Culture shock probably didn't just go away on it's own. You probably worked hard to get involved in activities and learn about your temporary home. Treat this the same way. Stay busy, pursue your interests, and say "yes" to everything. Don't totally lose touch with people you met, but don't spend 24/7 talking to people in your host country either. Go to cultural events. Explore neighborhoods or towns that you haven't spend much time in. Take a class or join a club that interests you, and look beyond your school to rec centers or community colleges if nothing at school catches your eye. Find small things to appreciate- a food, a view, a person, anything. This is just where you're at right now, so you might as well make the best of it.

3. Make a return plan.
Even in the toughest moments abroad, you knew you'd be back home within months. You might not know the next time you'll see your new family and friends from exchange though which can make it hard to deal with being away. I know I wanted to visit after six months, which was totally unrealistic. Research travel costs, save your money, and make a general plan of when you'll be able to visit. Knowing "I'll see everyone the summer after next" or something similar is a lot more manageable than not knowing when or if you'll return.

4. Stay involved, and pay it forward.
AFS, YFU, Rotary, and most other organizations absolutely LOVE when returnees want to get involved. You could volunteer to talk to people in your community about going abroad, help run orientations for foreign students in your community, or fill any number of other vital volunteer roles. This helps others have as important of an experience as you did, and it also keeps you connected to the world. You'll meet people who value your experience and likely share many of your goals and interests. They'll keep you sane when you feel like nobody cares or understands.