Re-entry doesn’t just happen in the weeks after you land back home. Re-entry happens while you’re still abroad, months later, even years later; it becomes a new part of your life if you let it enough.
While we might struggle with accepting that the once familiar is no longer familiar, and our new familiar of what we’ve just experienced abroad is suddenly so far away, there are ways to merge it all together. Our experiences, abroad and at “home,” become bits and pieces of one greater life story. While they may seem completely separate, it’s possible for your life to no longer be “my life abroad” and “my life at home.” By integrating our past experiences abroad into our current lives (wherever we may be) in strategic, comforting, yet proactive ways, we become one big coagulation of all of these stories, with all of its parts from all different places mixed into one fabulous life narrative. In my experience advising students who’ve just returned from being abroad, and having just returned from being abroad myself, I’ve come up with a few ways to do this:
- Eat, prepare, make, & seek food that you ate abroad while at home. Food is such an underrated and important part of culture shock, both reverse culture shock and in the traditional sense. Nearly every time I’ve come home after being abroad, I’ve craved some sort of food from the place I’ve just returned from (Milo from Fiji, Manzana Lift from Mexico, Lizano hot sauce from Costa Rica, PG Tips from England, the list goes on…). The wonderful thing about the internet is that it’s sometimes not always that hard to find that one little product that will bring your experience abroad back home. My pantry at home now looks like an international grocer in itself, but I love sharing those new familiar tastes with my friends and family. They don’t have to listen to me talk about my experience, they can now taste it too. These foods are now part of my “regular” diet, and make my life at home much more colorful (and delicious).
- Discover ways to watch TV or movies from abroad, especially if it’s in a different language. The “unfamiliar familiars” of coming home and realizing you’ve missed entire seasons of TV shows you used to run home to watch is a superficial, yet very present reminder that you are not abroad anymore. I’ve found it quirky and fun to mix my weekly TV lineup with programs I used to watch when I was abroad, via Hulu and Netflix. This isn’t always easy to do, depending on the country you were in, but indulging in the media vacuums of your time abroad is an entertaining, lighthearted way to integrate your experience abroad into your current life.
- Travel again, even if it’s just a weekend trip to a new city. It’s often a depressing new reality to find a lack of novel experiences like the one’s you’ve experienced abroad, where there is often a constant flow of new people, new food, and new places. By the second month of being abroad, you’re so used to having constant new experiences that the new normal becomes novelty. Going away for a weekend at home, even if it’s just to visit a friend who lives 30 minutes away, can be reinvigorating and recreate that sense of newness at home. I even enjoy the act of packing! Packing these days makes me feel like my life is all about traveling now, whether for a two-day trip to the city or a two-month trip to another country.
- Read travel magazine and blogs. Follow fellow travelers on Twitter. Maintaining that mentality of travel, and of enjoying the present and seeing the world (or the next city, see above) can be a refreshing new added element if you make it part of your daily psyche. Make it a habit to check your favorite travel blogs often; put travel and other people who are traveling where you can see it. I always knew I wouldn’t be satisfied unless I kept going after my dreams of living abroad. When it finally happened, knowing I was going somewhere again made the process much easier. Being involved in travel chatter and reading travel news put me in the travel mindset long before I had even left again. My new life, combining my experiences abroad with those at home, was a life where I woke up thinking about travel and the rest of the world, and I was thankful to have this new outlook.
- Meet international students, or expats in your own city. If you’re still in school, seek out the international education office to find like-minded people going abroad, or those international students that already are abroad. It’s amazing how meeting someone from the country you were just in can revive you, and connect you to your past experience as it is in the present. I’m lucky enough to have an inherently international family, and when I had come back from being abroad in Mexico, chatting with my Mexican stepmother comforted me, and reminded me of all the new wonderful cultural knowledge and personal experiences I now had. I also should mention that using your newfound knowledge of the abroad process and the culture you were just in to advise students who are in the early stages of going through the same process is not just cathartic, but can be therapeutic and satisfying. Apply to be a peer mentor or advisor and use your experience to inspire, motivate, and support other students.
As I’ve traveled and as I’ve come home from long-term trips more than ten times in the past few years, I no longer fear that by doing some of the above I’m “holding on too tight” as my friends have sometimes described. I don’t see it as an unhealthy nostalgia, seeking things from past experience in a way that prevents me from moving on. Rather, I think about them as building blocks, pieces of your past experience that you can now bring to your present life to create a bigger, stronger, more colorful new life with all of its fabulous bits and pieces from your one life, abroad and at home.
A graduate of SIT Graduate Institute with a M.A. in Intercultural Service, Leadership, and Management with a focus in International Education, Amanda Batista is an enthusiastic world traveler. Dedicated to facilitating life-changing international experiences for the next generation of travelers and students, Amanda is a food and culture lover who still gets overly excited people-watching at the arrivals halls at JFK. Now pursuing a career in international education, Amanda is happy to answer your questions and comments by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.