Jasmine Mah, our University of Leeds (Spring 2018) student wrote this article upon returning home to California. Many of you returnees reading this might find some solidarity and helpful advice in her words, or, if you’re about to embark on your own UCEAP journey, you might gain a better understanding of what the re-entry experience is like after your study abroad adventure.
Jasmine notes, and I reiterate, that not every experience (abroad or return from abroad) is the same. But have a read, and you might find that you have a lot in common.
At my pre-departure orientation at UC Davis, I talked to Davis students who had returned from studying abroad in the UK. Most said they experienced lots of “reverse culture shock” when they came back to California. Reverse culture shock is the uneasiness one feels when returning to one’s home country after considerable time abroad. I remembered the Davis students’ words during my wonderful semester at the University of Leeds. In Leeds, I would infrequently joke about anticipating really bad reverse culture shock when I returned home.
Little did I know how hard the reverse culture shock would hit me. Literally, less than an hour after my plane landed in LAX, a man rammed into me with his heavy suitcase and didn’t even apologize. I immediately started crying (I know this sounds dramatic but I was already quite irritable from sitting on an eleven-hour flight and being unable to sleep). I wasn’t physically hurt, but I finally realized that my incredible semester abroad was over and I needed to re-adjust to life back home.
I’ve been home for three weeks now. I still miss Leeds and I still do a double take every time I hear the word “chips” (not sure if they mean what Americans call “French fries” or what Brits call “crisps”). However, I’m feeling a lot better since that first day back in LAX. Here are a few things that I’ve realized since returning to California:
It’s a good thing to be sad about not being in your host city anymore.
Hear me out on this one. At first, the homesickness you feel for your host city seems all-consuming. Maybe you spend hours looking through photos from the past semester and missing all the friends you made in the UK. Or maybe you get upset whenever you notice that something you enjoyed in the UK is not present in the US. Worst of all, people don’t understand why you’re unhappy to be home. If you miss your host city so much, that means you had a meaningful experience. You adapted to a foreign culture, you grew to love a new city and country, and you treated every day as a new adventure. Once you get over the initial sadness, you can feel satisfied that you made the most of your time in the UK.
Try: By all means, reminisce about your term abroad. But instead of thinking “My time in [host city] was so amazing. I wish I was still there,” try telling yourself “My time in [host city] was so amazing. I’m glad I got to experience everything I did.” This simple switch works wonders in combating initial sadness.
Don’t expect everybody and everything at home to stay the same.
It’s easy, if a bit foolish, to think that everybody back home is going to stay the same when you’re gone. While their lives might not change as rapidly as yours does, that doesn’t mean that they’ll stay completely static. Initially, it appears alienating to recognize that people’s lives carried on fine without you. You might question your place in your old UC community, and wonder if you still fit in.
Try: Ask your friends and family how they’ve been doing. If everybody starts talking about something you don’t know, don’t be afraid to say, “Sorry, what is everybody talking about? I must’ve been gone when this happened.” Eventually, you’ll be in the loop again.
Your “UC self” and your “host uni self” can exist simultaneously.
It’s easy, if a bit foolish, for your friends and family to expect you to stay the same when you return. But chances are you grew as a person and learned important life lessons while you were away. You may have also grown attached to your host university’s community. You might wonder whether your loyalties lie with your UC or your host uni. The truth is, you don’t have to pick one over the other. And you definitely don’t need to pretend that you were the same person you were before you moved to the UK.
Try: Find ways to connect your two communities. Share your international stories with your friends and family in California. Video call your UK friends and give them a campus tour of your UC. More importantly, remember the positive ways in which your experience changed you. If you continue applying the life lessons you learned, you can ensure your international education continues.
I want to end by saying that this post is not meant to discourage people from studying abroad. My semester in Leeds was absolutely incredible, and I’m so thankful I was able to study there. I simply wanted to share my experience with reverse culture shock, and hopefully help some fellow UC students who have returned from the UK, or will return from the UK in the future.