5 Tips for Coming Back From Study Abroad

As I realize now that I’m in my final month of studying abroad in Indonesia, I am holding on ever the more tightly to this beautiful country that I’ve fallen in love with. I’ve been thinking a lot about how it might feel to experience re-entry culture shock, which is definitely a thing. It’s going to be weird to come back to many aspects of the United States that I haven’t been accustomed to for four months. Living in Indonesia has become my new normal, and although I understand that everyone studying abroad will be re-adjusting upon coming back, Indonesia strikes me as different than your typical Barcelona/Copenhagen abroad exchange. Nonetheless, these tips are for all! Here are some helpful ideas to help you transition back from studying abroad.

1. It’s Okay to Miss It!

I’m sure you know this already, but first and foremost, it is absolutely OKAY to miss studying abroad! For many of us, studying abroad has been a wonderful break from real life and reality where we could study and learn and explore in enchanting environments. You’ve probably made some new friends and have some new favorite spots in your study abroad country, and it’s absolutely okay to miss those. I imagine that there might come a moment when I’m back home where I am talking about abroad too much or talking about missing it too much and may get chastised for it, maybe something like, “Okay, Elizabeth, we know you miss studying abroad, but you’re home now!” That might feel pretty horrible. If this happens to you, just know we all miss it too. There’s no sort of timeline that you need to follow, so talk about it for as long as you want and miss it for as long as you want. I feel that for many of us, we’ll never truly stop missing it, as these countries now have a piece of our heart.

I'm going to miss all of the beaches and sunsets in Indonesia. Here is Lovina Beach in north Bali.

2. Reflect on New Feelings

Although I’ve never regularly journaled in my entire life, I’ve kept a journal while I was studying abroad, and it really helped me put my feelings down on paper when I was experiencing loneliness or frustration. I have a feeling that this technique will be very helpful when I come BACK from abroad too, as there will continue to be moments of re-entry culture shock that leave me angry or frustrated. Find a way to reflect on these feelings coming back in a productive and healthy way. Share with friends, reflect through writing, and question your own reactions to things that make you frustrated.

3. Keep in Touch with Friends

I think one of the main ways I’m going to stay sane once coming back to the United States is by keeping in touch with the other American students who I went abroad with. Nobody is truly going to know what it was like to study and live in Indonesia for four months except these fifteen other people, and so I hope to keep in touch with them and reach out to reminisce and converse when I’m missing Indonesia. Be sure to put some effort into the friendships you want to maintain upon coming back! I think it can be so easy to settle back in with local friends and regular life that you forget about keeping in touch, so remember to make an effort to do that.

These fifteen people have made studying abroad in Indonesia absolutely amazing because we're all on the same rollercoaster ride together.

4. Be Mindful of the Stories You Tell

I’ve been thinking a lot about the stories that I will tell about my Indonesian experience after coming back to the United States. As a white person, my body always comes with an immense amount of privilege, and I had to grapple with that in new ways while being in Indonesia. I want people in America to have a positive view of Indonesia, because it really is an amazing country, so if I feel compelled to tell a not-so-great story, how will that affect my American friends’ views of the country, especially a country that is in Asia and is considered a “developing country?” I’m not sure I have an answer to that yet, but the first step is to be aware of it. When telling stories back home, please remember that your stories have an impact on how Americans may view the country you visited. In living somewhere for an entire semester, I’m sure you have gotten the chance to see the country as a complex, nuanced entity with both good and bad parts (as ANY country has!). However, your friends have not, so just be mindful of negative stories and generalizations you might make about an entire country or its people.

One of the biggest stories I want to tell is about the three wonderful host families who I lived with while in Indonesia. These people treated me like their own daughter, and I'm really going to miss the dads, moms, and siblings who taught me so much about life. 

5. Set a New Routine

When I first went to Indonesia, one of the hardest parts of adjusting was just getting used to a different schedule. Upon coming back to America, I think I’m going to have the same problem. Life is just so different and strange when you change your routine, and part of establishing that normalcy again will be getting back into a routine. So, even if you come back to a home setting and not a school setting, make an effort to set a new routine. I’m sure this will help you get back into the groove and will help you establish a “new normal” of being back in the United States.

Coming back from study abroad will be bittersweet. Using these tips, hopefully the transition back will be as smooth as possible. At the end of the day, give yourself time to transition back, and lean on your support system to ease the pain of the changes.