Returning From Abroad: 4 Tips to Make the Transition Easier

Studying abroad was no doubt one of the most daunting feats I have ever completed in my undergraduate career. While I had some help from my family, the Study Abroad Office at Muhlenberg and administrators in the states and in New Zealand, I was essentially responsible for my own survival and happiness. From the seemingly endless piles of forms, coordinating flights and finances, packing, to actually going and living on my own for four months approximately 9,000 miles away from home, I thought I had plenty to worry about, and figured that coming home would be an absolute breeze in comparison.

Little did I know that the hard part came once I returned to the United States. Not only was my sleep schedule completely wrecked due to the time difference, but I was having a hard time getting used to being home again and wasn’t completely sure why. About a year has passed since then and in that time, I’ve done a lot of thinking about what I could have done differently and what I wish I knew when I came home. Had I considered these things, my return from abroad would have been a lot easier.

1) It’s okay to be sad you’re not abroad anymore.

This might sound silly, but returning from a semester abroad can be a difficult adjustment. Because you are essentially on your own, you have an unprecedented amount of freedom to use your time as you please. Maybe you challenged yourself academically in your classes, found new interests through joining clubs at your new school, made friends and connections in your new home or traveled extensively to new cities and countries. Studying abroad was truly one of the only times in my undergraduate career where it was solely up to me how I wanted to spend my time because I didn’t have any previous commitments (besides classes) to hold me back. Further, you can make the most of your new environment to understand yourself in a new way. Being on your own and needing to take care of yourself does change a person for the better because you realize how capable and strong you truly are. The amount of self-growth I experienced abroad astounded me, but upon my return, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to hold onto the confidence and courage I gained. I felt lost and confused and found myself wishing I was back in Christchurch so I could feel centered again. So, don’t be surprised if you feel stressed, upset or stifled by returning to Muhlenberg. I promise you these feelings will pass, that you won’t lose what you’ve gained from your abroad experience, and you will remember all the things you love about ‘Berg. It may take awhile, but you most certainly will make it through. 

2) You’ve changed, but so has everything else.

Although you’re returning to a familiar place, things have no doubt changed while you were away. Change is truly the only constant in life so learn to welcome and embrace it. I went abroad in the fall of my junior year and left in the middle of summer. When I came back to campus in January for spring semester, everything seemed different. There was a whole class of people I hadn’t met before on campus, my advisor was on sabbatical, half of my friends in my class year had left for their own semesters abroad and the rest of them were a semester away from graduating. I didn’t feel like Muhlenberg was the same as I had left it and that feeling scared me. Coping with this change was frustrating at times, but recognizing that part of my frustration came from the fact I was a different person was a step towards figuring out how I could feel at home again.

3) Get involved.

Sometimes, the best strategy for getting through a difficult time is to focus on other things. Make a regular schedule for yourself and stick to it. Outside of classes, it’s also good to return to activities you were involved in before you went abroad or maybe even try out some new ones. If you have time, try and get a leadership position in an organization on campus. Not only will you learn more valuable skills about how to relate to others, manage your time and accomplish goals, which you undoubtedly learned abroad, but it will also allow you to make new connections on campus and help you feel a part of something larger than yourself. Even if your class schedule is rigorous (believe me, we’ve all been there), take some time to do at least one thing for yourself or for others that will keep you occupied and fulfill you, even if that involves taking an hour and reading a book for fun, going to the gym or watching an episode on Netflix. Taking time to do what makes you happy is so important, especially during transition periods in your life.

4) Reach out to your support system.

Even if you take care of yourself to the best of your ability, sometimes the difficulty of the transition will get the best of you. This is totally normal, but be sure to reach out to people who will listen and understand.  Obviously, you can talk to whoever you feel will give you what you need, but I found that talking to people who had gone abroad and had been back for a few semesters most helpful since they understood what I was going through and were able to give me advice based on what helped them.

This list is by no means complete, but I hope it gives you some ideas of how to manage your transition back to campus. The most important thing to remember is that everyone’s experience is different and you have to trust yourself to know what’s best for you.