Just like after a nasty breakup, the concept of life after study abroad might seem unimaginable. You definitely weren’t ready for it to end, and even with the knowledge that things were coming to a close, reality hit hard. Who knew that longing for your host family and overseas routine would provoke more homesickness than you experienced in those first couple of weeks abroad? It might seem like nothing will ever be as good as this chapter in life was— so many great memories, so many magical experiences, so many nights without sleep because there was always too much to do and never enough time.
I get you. It’s tough. The wound is fresh, but listen up:
All great things come to a close (except for pumpkin-flavored everything, at least in my house). The beauty of a study abroad experience, however, is that the new mentalities and boundless inspiration will stick around a lot longer than the academic lessons. Just because you’re not sitting at a French café or Japanese teahouse anymore, doesn’t mean that you cannot channel your “Study-Abroad-Self” when you are moping on the couch with a bad case of post-study abroad depression.
Because, you know what? Study abroad never really ends. In fact, it’s just the first step toward a new lifestyle–a better you. So, how do you keep up that momentum? How do you continue to live an inspired life after studying abroad?
Maybe the advantage of college credit isn’t part of the picture anymore, but there’s still about 1,674,310 reasons to keep traveling abroad. Sign up for a short-term volunteer placement to keep the cultural exchange flowing or take a summer internship abroad to maintain adult responsibilities (while having a lot of fun). Now that you know that the world isn’t a big, scary place, continue crossing borders, seeing new cultures, and tasting quirky foods.
In his travel manifesto, Why We Travel, Pico Iyer said that “[i]f a diploma can famously be a passport (to a journey through hard realism), a passport can be a diploma (for a crash course in cultural relativism).”
Leave any doubts and misconceptions at home, face the world without any #filters, and recognize your role in the world.
Not only are you there to observe and learn, but you are also there to share and teach as much about yourself as the country and culture you are associated with. Place appropriate weight to that responsibility, and be humble in the process. Remember, this is why students study abroad in the first place.
Proust’s timeless claim that “the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes,” is particularly relevant to coming back home from a life-changing experience abroad. Bring your la vie en rose-colored glasses back from study abroad in Paris and maintain the same thirst for new knowledge and experiences that you had abroad.
From buying bus tickets to figuring out how gym lockers work (surprise: they don’t), your days abroad were packed with all sorts of new information, new words, and new flavors. Don’t slack off now that you’re back home, where things seem tame and you feel like you already know everything. If there was a hobby you picked up abroad, continue doing it. Don’t throw your English-Swahili dictionary under your bed just because there’s no more savannah tours on the horizon; instead, seek expats in your city to chat with or sign up for an online language exchange. Continue living your study abroad life!
Mandatory reading lists might have all been checked off, but I bet that there are still a few verbs you haven’t learned to conjugate correctly in the subjunctive or a couple of foreign authors that you didn’t get to.
The career benefits of studying abroad are many: skill sets, resume wow’s, personal growth. However, even more constructive for life back home is not stopping the research, and what better resources than books? Keep that flame for Italy ignited by cuddling up with Umberto Eco or Italo Calvino (or a grammar book); pick up on all of the cultural subtleties you experienced first-hand and understand from afar all of those cultural quirks you observed, but never asked about.
Flip through travel magazines and scroll through pages and pages (and pages and pages) of inspirational quotes in pretty fonts pasted on top of breathtaking images of the world. Check out other people’s travel blogs to see what inspires people to study abroad, to globetrot, and to convert this positive obsession into something beneficial to local communities. And maybe write your own experiences down to inspire others?
Keep in touch.
You’re not the first, or only, person to wallow in post-study abroad depression. Check up on your international classroom and find out how other people are coping back home. Send a friendly message to the school faculty that made your study abroad experience so awesome, and let them know how much they are appreciated. Become pen pals with your host family or across-the-sea classmates to maintain relations and stay on top of your current slang.
Share your stories and feelings with those that went on the same educational voyage as you, and use them as resources for future travels. Not only do you now have friends all over the world that you can crash with, but you have travel companions with a similar mindset that can accompany you on any future globetrotting mischief. Shared adventures don’t have to end after your semester study abroad program is over.
Keep following your passions.
Whether that newfound passion is for weekend trips to surrounding towns, Russian grammar, or bagpipes, stick with what you fell in love with abroad. Even if badminton isn’t part of the sports curriculum at school, there’s no reason to not join a community team and show off your new moves.
If this activity is very culture-specific (such as fesenjān potlucks, maypole dancing, or hiking in sandals and socks), you will find a whole group of expat posses that you can further your hobby with. Translation: new friends and extended language learning. If your favorite activity from abroad doesn’t have a very large following at home (forró dancing?), it sounds like you can import an exotic outlet of fun and share your study abroad life with your hometown.
Introduce new activities, bring people together, and become a key force in changing the dynamic of home.
Our mentality abroad is usually a lot more open than back home; we want to try everything, no matter how absurd the dance steps are or how awkward the food looks. It’s no surprise that many people come back with a clearer vision of what they want to devote their lives to (example: studying abroad in Thailand because it was the best place to check off elective credits and then coming back with an insatiable desire to better the world by offering really intense massages). Go with the flow and listen to your heart.
Keep doing you!
There is no denying how studying abroad changes you. As a person, you probably grew more during your semester abroad than in all of the semesters back home. You stepped out of your comfort zones, boosted your self-confidence, learned new lingo, expanded your boundaries, broke all of your misconceptions, absorbed another culture, made friends in a crowd of strangers, marched to the beat of a foreign drum, participated in activities that would make people gawk back home, and picked up a few new card games.
Abroad, we were a blank canvas, unlimited by any reputations or expectations associated with the other side of the ocean. As Iyer wrote: “We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves.” However, it might have been a breath of fresh air to realize that the “you” that you found is not the “you” that you expected or were searching for. What stepped out of the ashes of jet lag, culture shock, and a lifetime of taking-yourself-for-granted was a stranger to even your own eyes.
Whether some quality traits were redefined or new interests were discovered, the person that came back standing a little bit taller and walking with a different sway is a force not to be reckoned with. The thought of returning to being “the old you” doesn’t even seem possible, because it’s not. So, embrace the resurrection and keep defining and bettering yourself every day.
To wrap up with another snippet of Iyer wisdom: “…the best trips, like the best love affairs, never really end.” Extract the knowledge and resources gained from your study abroad experience, then apply them to daily life and all future endeavors. Life after study abroad is boundless, so indulge!