It’s Re-Entry Reality Monday! Would you like to share your Re-Entry Reality? Contact me – I’d love to talk with you!
Sophia Zhang is a recent graduate from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has received a Fulbright grant to teach English in South Korea for the 2013-2014 academic year. Her travel blog can be found here: www.little-wanderer.com.
Sophia, where did you go abroad and what did you do there?
My first time going abroad for an extended period of time was during my sophomore year in college. I participated in an exchange program in the UK, at the University of Sheffield. While there, I had the wonderful opportunity of backpacking around Europe for a month. Upon completion of the program, I traveled to Hong Kong for the summer.
I studied abroad again during my junior year – at National Taiwan University. In addition to taking classes, I taught at a local junior high school every week. Some of my favorite memories involve exploring the island with friends on our rented motor scooters!
Come July, I will be starting the Fulbright ETA program and moving in with a homestay family in South Korea. Needless to say, I’ve caught the travel bug and just can’t get rid of it!
When did the idea of re-entry get on your radar?
I’d never heard of reverse culture shock until I returned from studying abroad in the UK. I’d been away for nearly eight months, and felt that during that time I’d transformed into a brand new person. Also, I was so used to constantly having novel experiences that it was jarring coming back to such a familiar environment. For the first few weeks I struggled to regain a sense of belonging. I didn’t know where I fit in anymore, but at the same time I wasn’t sure how to express what I was feeling.
I missed being abroad and found it hard to enjoy the present. I felt guilty about this and knew I needed to start living in the moment again, rather than yearning for the past. Later, an older friend who had studied abroad as an undergrad told me that he’d felt the same way I did after returning from his program. Through him I learned what I was experiencing is actually quite common. Identifying this was very helpful.
Another big factor was time. As time passed, I was able to get back into the swing of things. The feeling of alienation wore off and home started to feel like home again.
What was your re-entry experience like?
I was mainly concerned about all of the things I’d missed out on while I was abroad. Many relationships had ended as well as begun while I was away. Friend circles had also changed. This concern gradually faded once I got back to school though. Things have a natural way of falling back in place, and within time I’d created a new schedule for myself. In any case, my first re-entry experience was a swirl of ups and downs.
I remember basking in joy when the officer at the airport stamped my passport and said, “Welcome back” to me. I remember feeling flustered when everyone would ask me about my travels, because I found it difficult to translate into words how much I’d grown, all of the new things I learned, and what an amazing experience the past eight months had been. I also remember wishing I could go back abroad. Despite having readjusted to life at home, a part of me never stopped craving travel.
I think the re-entry experience is what ultimately led me to apply to study abroad a second time. I realized how much I love living in a different culture and knew I wouldn’t be satisfied unless I saw more of the world. Knowing I would be embarking on another journey again soon made the re-entry process a lot easier. In turn, it caused my appreciation for home to grow, because I knew my time there was limited.
It’s a balancing act, but traveling has taught me to love and appreciate the present, and to accept the positives of both my home in the States and my home abroad – wherever that may be!
What do you know *now* about re-entry that you wish you’d known earlier?
That it’s natural, like jet lag. There’s no need to be upset at yourself for feeling out-of-it in the beginning. Time makes everything better and you’ll soon readjust!
What tips do you have for others who are about to go through re-entry?
It really helps if you choose to participate in an international organization or event when you come back home. I signed up to be an E.A.S.E (Easing Abroad Students Entry) mentor when I got back to my University. I ended up making lots of new international friends. In a way it felt a little bit like study abroad. It also helps to keep busy so you don’t spend too much time missing being abroad. Reminiscing is nice, but getting stuck on the past may foster feelings of sadness and prevent you from enjoying the present.
Finally, it is important to stay open. When you are abroad, you have to make many adjustments due to the different way of life and new environment. This requires openness and acceptance, which can also be applied to the re-entry experience. Coming home with this sort of mindset and a positive attitude will make the process much more enjoyable and easier.
And…just for fun: If re-entry were a food what would it be? Why?
Wasabi! You think you’re ready for what’s to come. Still, the sensation manages to surprise you every time.
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.