I don’t think the school would like me saying this very much, but I want to be very honest with you, Dear Reader.
Readjusting after living abroad sucks.
I hate to put it in such crude terms, but there’s no other way to say it. It’s just really, really miserable. Of course coming back to friends and family you haven’t seen for so long is great. I can’t even describe how I felt to see my mom at the train station waiting for me, eager to take me to that familiar place called “home.” But if your experience is anything like mine, the next day, when you sit down with your family for a meal, they begin to unload all of their questions, and this is when depression officially begins:
How was your trip?
What did you eat?
What was your favorite thing you did?
Did you actually study there?
What time is it there?
Not all at once, please! The full-on assault from seemingly endless questions immediately triggered treasured memories. Remember? The first fish and chips you had in London, that night you danced until dawn in Johannesburg, the first cherry blossoms you saw bloom in Seoul. But, like all things, their interest does fade and though you might be sick of their questions, your friends also get worn down by random stories on top of stories about your beloved homeland abroad. And you’re left to descend into what? You go from telling everyone your stories to curling up on the couch to watch endless loops of YouTube vlogs from your city, screaming at parts when you recognize places you’ve been and yelling suggestions to the vlogger (or am I the only one?…).
I’ve found that there are a few things that help me to make it through those days when I’m particularly hungry for a donkatsu or a sip of soju (but nothing will ever fill the space in my heart where a cool soonhari (순하리) belongs). As study abroad returnees, we have to take care of each other in this time of need and, hopefully, with these tips, we can all make it to our next adventure before our travel bugs eat us alive.
1. Put Your Experience to Good Use
Instead of constantly making your friends listen to the story of that wild night out with the French exchange students or getting yelled at in the Metro for being too loud, why not put those stories to good use. One thing I immediately jumped on when the semester started was to become a Study Abroad Mentor (STAMP). Being a mentor, I could actually drone on with stories of Seoul adventures to someone who actually might find them useful. And somehow sharing with those about to embark on the same journey I took all those months ago made me excited for them, and less glum for me.
2. Remind Yourself Every Now and Again
All of those photos, videos, and trinkets you have from abroad aren’t meant to collect dust in a sacred box or in a folder on your hard drive. Let yourself enjoy them! Go ahead. Relive an event or find a way to just recapture that special feeling. Every now and again, I toss on a particular DJ mix and I can close my eyes and get beamed to Seoul in an instant, tearing up the dance floor with my friends. I went out one night (a night I talked about in a previous post) and the set of one of the DJs was uploaded onto SoundCloud. I very quickly downloaded that and put it right onto my phone, an easily accessible memory for me to keep with me always.
3. Stay in Touch with Abroad Friends
Shoot your friends from abroad a message every once in awhile. I mean, this is the age of globalization, right? There’s Whatsapp, KakaoTalk, WeChat, Line—these kinds of worldwide messenger apps are endless. Your abroad friends are the ones who made your experience so memorable.And, most likely, they’re in the same boat as you, missing that time together, reliving memories of their adopted friend from Arcadia. They know what you’re going through because they’re going through it, too.
4. Find Your Way Back
Don’t just sit there and wallow in wanting to go back. Go! Especially here at Arcadia, study abroad does not have to be one-and-done. Check out Global Field Study courses (sort of like upperclassmen “Preview”), summer and other semester exchange programs, or language-based abroad programs. Of course, these programs aren’t just something you just will out of thin air; they will cost money. But we, as students, have barrels (buckets, wheelbarrows, entire trucks full) of money just an essay away from us. I received the Gilman scholarship for my abroad experience. With a little searching, you can find scholarships tailored to you and your future study-abroad choices. If you’ve got the travel bug real bad, sometimes it’s just unshakeable. So it’s better to just give it what it wants.
5. Rediscover Your Own Town
Before you run off to get a visa for your next experience, try satisfying your global urges in your own city. We returnees have taken on some of the most interesting and exciting cultural places in the world: Seoul, London, Beijing, Cape Town. We’ve scoured the streets as hungry adventurers, on the hunt for new and incredible experiences. Now show that same zeal for adventure and discover a Philly, New York, or whatever city or neighborhood you want to claim. I’ll let you in on a little secret: The international experience is not just abroad, it’s right here at home. It’s in Chinatown or in that little hole-in-the-wall Turkish restaurant. It’s at the Cuban restaurant that turns into a dance hall on the weekends. Even here at Arcadia, look around. You just might find a little of what you left abroad.