It’s Re-Entry Reality Monday! Would you like to share your Re-Entry Reality? Contact me – I’d love to talk with you!
Alexa Hart is founder and host of Atlas Sliced, an interview-based web show and podcast about living abroad. She spent two years teaching English in Korea. Prior to that, she volunteered and became TEFL certified in Cusco, Peru. Her Twitter handle is @AtlasSlicedShow.
Alexa, where did you go abroad and what did you do there?
First off, I want to stay that I come from a family that loves to travel. Thus, I started traveling at an early age and have been fortunate enough to visit lots of countries. A crazy fact that a lot of people don’t know about me is that I got malaria on a family vacation in Uganda in 2006. That’s a whole different post though.
My first long-term experience abroad was in 2009, when I quit my public relations job to travel solo and volunteer in Cusco, Peru. I helped paint a battered women’s shelter and looked after underprivileged children. While there, I learned that my volunteer organization was also a language institute that offered TEFL certification courses. At the time, TEFL was an entirely new concept to me. After talking to some TEFL students, they encouraged me to take the four-week class, so I did. I had no clue that I could teach English abroad and make a living doing it. Who knew that I would end up in South Korea? I was completely sold on the idea of teaching abroad and made my way to Seoul.
My schools were right near Gangnam (yes, just like the song by Psy). I taught at two different hagwons (private schools) teaching intensive English to kids aged three to fourteen. They soaked it up like a sponge! I also traveled extensively around Asia during holidays and when my contract was finished.
When did the idea of re-entry get on your radar?
I thought about re-entry a lot when I was traveling in Asia. I knew that the adjustment process would be tough, but I didn’t really know what to expect and if my feelings were common. Part of me was excited to go home and enjoy the luxuries and complexities of the Western world; another part of me was sad to leave an easy, fun, simplistic lifestyle.
What was your re-entry experience like?
Before I even returned home, I often thought about what life would be like when I came back. I found myself anxious to return home because I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I asked myself questions like, “Am I a marketable candidate for a job?” “What kind of job do I want?” “What if I want to go back abroad?” I was going home without a future plan. Since I am someone who likes to plan, the uncertainty was very hard for me.
Weirdly, the first few weeks at home felt like a honeymoon. I was so excited to see family and friends and eat food that I had missed. After a little while, the thrills of being back home wore off a bit, and the anxiety about my future and my career intensified.
With that being said, the re-entry process was easier than I imagined it to be. I think that part of the reason is because I launched Atlas Sliced. Being able to connect with people all over the world through Skype video interviews and chats has been extremely powerful. I am able to exchange thoughts and advice with my guests and connections, and I feel fortunate to have formed lasting relationships with several of them. Atlas Sliced has been my outlet for speaking with like-minded people.
There is still quite a bit of uncertainty about my future, but I feel more confident about it after launching Atlas Sliced.
Here are a few more things during my re-entry process that took some getting used to.
• Using the dishwasher – One would think that adapting to a dishwasher would be easy. Yet, it took me forever to get back into the habit of not cleaning my dishes.
• Smart Phones – I got my first smart phone when I came back and noticed that people are on their cell phones all the time! What happened to good old-fashioned face-to-face conversations sans cell phone interruptions?
• Prices – The cost of certain items was a huge shock to me. Frankly, I am still shocked. A doctor’s visit to a really nice hospital in Bangkok was probably one-tenth the cost of what it would be here in the states. I think twice about what I buy now knowing that it can be made/offered at a much less expensive price in other countries around the world.
• Driving – I was so unsure of my driving skills when I returned home that I actually did a few practice sessions with my mom!
What do you know *now* about re-entry that you wish you’d known earlier?
Uncertainty is common. I would have told my past self that it’s okay not to have a set path for the future right away. It takes time to assess thoughts and feelings about your place in life. It’s a much slower process to readjust than I imagined.
I also wish I had known that so many people, even close friends and family, wouldn’t share my enthusiasm about my time abroad. I got frustrated when they asked the inevitable, vague “How was it?” question just to be polite and didn’t ask any follow-up questions.
The lesson here is that we’re all different. Finding relatable topics is important, so steer your conversations to topics where everyone can contribute, and save the travel talk for a different audience.
What tips do you have for others who are about to go through re-entry?
Find a way to connect with other people who have gone abroad. You will need some sort of support system and a way to talk about what you’re going through with people who are going through the same thing or have gone through it in the past.
Also, Use your travels and experiences to do something meaningful. For example, start a blog or write a guest post for someone else’s blog, or maybe even start a club or Meetup group. Do things that will keep you active in a positive way.
And…just for fun: If re-entry were a food what would it be? Why?
A lemon! It’s super sour and not great by itself, but as we all know, we can make delicious lemonade out of it. Life is not about what we have… It’s about what we DO with the things that we have. Concocting lemonade is the perfect example of making the most out of a sour situation.
The Re-Entry Reality: Your Guide to Re-Launching Yourself After Being Abroad workbook and support is available! Half of each workbook purchase goes to help a high school student study abroad. Click here to check it out.