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Off-Campus Study & Exchanges - Skidmore College

Returning home and the inevitable ‘Now What?’

Picture yourself sitting on a plane about to fly across the world to live and study for four months. There are no guarantees that everything will be the same upon your return. Are you ready to leave your friends and family for four months? Are you ready to live independently in a foreign country? These are the questions we all ask ourselves before we decide to study abroad. We take that initial risk to get on that plane and begin our journeys to a foreign land. But very rarely in our decision-making process do we think about the plane ride back and returning home.

I was fortunate enough to study in Beijing, China during the Fall of 2013. Like you, I was asking all of these questions before I made my decision. As I sat on the plane I wondered what would change while I was away, if anything. Little did I know that most of the change I would eventually experience would stem from myself rather than others. I didn’t realize this fact until the summer after my spring semester at Skidmore.

Upon my initial return home everything fell back into place in almost no time at all. I got into a routine and the initial high of seeing and catching up with everyone wore off relatively quick. Some friendships had shifted a bit due to my time away but for the most part nothing felt very different with my close friends. It was thrilling to tell everyone about my experience in China and share pictures upon pictures but I became well aware that it would soon become old news. I needed an outlet for my stories and one thing that helped me was using my creativity. I made collages, and videos among other things to help me reflect on my experience. I got more involved with OCSE programs and kept my eye out for specific programs that would relate to me. Being able to talk to others who were abroad helped me feel less isolated. It is easy to fall into a mundane routine where nothing is new or exciting as it was when you were abroad. Getting the opportunity to talk to others who had similar experiences flooded my mind with memories and brought back the excitement of when I was in China.

Experiencing reverse culture shock is not a familiar feeling and even with my research on the subject beforehand, I didn’t expect it to happen to me. One significant piece of advice I can give is to not sell your experience short. You will feel as if your time abroad was amazing and in reality it was amazing. You should be proud of your journey and the risk you took. Keep in mind that others will want to hear about your story when you get back but not so much a couple months later when you’re cramming for finals week. My advice is to keep in touch with friends you made abroad, write/draw/create things that will help you reflect and remember, and utilize the OCSE office and the programs they offer. No one said readjustment would be easy, but it doesn’t have to be as hard as you think.

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