You’re sitting at your desk, but in reality you’re elsewhere. Sunning in Malaysia, luxuriating over tapas in Madrid. While the rest of your friends are planning their Thursday night, you’re still stuck in a foreign port. There is an art to coming home. Rule #1? Be wherever you are right now.
Are you suffering from a study abroad hangover — that horrible realization that the party ended ten hours ago, and you’re drowsily trying to shake off the side effects?
A parent of a student who recently returned from London mentioned that his daughter seemed to be struggling with “the blues” ever since returning stateside. It got me wondering if there’s a right and a wrong way to decompress after your abroad experiences.
I came up with good news, bad news and a few (unabashedly woo-woo) ways to get back on track.
Bad News: You will have an abroad hangover.
Good News: Gratitude is the antidote.
Did you see study abroad as an irresistible, short-lived hook in an otherwise monotonous song? You may be livin’ la vida loca at PartySchool U., but what happens when those once exhilarating frat romps pale in comparison to your nights singing O Sole Mio in Roman fountains?
Usher in the study abroad snob. You know, that guy who kills your buzz every time he goes off on a tangent about how he’d rather be making out with his Spanish girlfriend in the Plaza Mayor than…well…looking at you. First of all, forgive him, he’s suffering from post-abroad depression. But then snap him into reality.
You’re allowed to feel “blue” when you come home, because let’s face it, goodbyes hurt. Kissing away one lifestyle for another that is no longer new can feel like a trade down. But let’s be real — you’re a lucky S.O.B. no matter what. Coming home is as much about sharing your new life with your friends as allowing them to welcome you back into the fold where you were missed. Remember the things you loved about home that were real culture shocks when they were suddenly stripped away. Tap into that gratitude–both of your “real life” and your “abroad life”–and try to make it your aim, rather than feeling as if you’ve been karmically gipped. Gratitude is a chain reaction that produces more of what you want…try it, and see where it lands you.
Commit to decompression measures. No, I’m serious.
Writing a journal, making a photo album, Skyping your host parents in Rio….we all talk a good game about the fluffy stuff, but the question is whether or not we get down to it. The overwhelming answer? No. I am a travel blogger who has never finished a travel journal; I admit it for the world to criticize. The idea of recording pivotal moments seemed bright at the beginning, but when I was rushing around trying to buy last minute miniature balalaikas for my parents in Russia? Nyet.
Make a commitment to do one thing that serves as decompression when you get home. Really commit to it. We have a few good ideas for recording your experiences here, especially if travel diaries aren’t your M.O. It may be as simple as booking a monthly Skype chat with the people left behind. Or perhaps you’ll volunteer to get involved with a charity that is dear to the country you’ve left. Do what you say you’re going to do, because it will inspire you to make bigger and better promises to yourself in the future.
Be wherever you are right now.
Sometimes it is so hard for me to be in my house when my heart is sitting in Barcelona — right where I left it a year ago. Why should your mind be in a cubicle when it’s used to swirling around Bali, and touring art museums in Paris? It doesn’t make sense. The problem is that the opportunities of the present are often missed when we’re pining for moment passed, even if we perceive those moments to have been more valuable than what we’re doing now.
Now that isn’t to say that you shouldn’t remember. Daydream, fall in love, reminisce all over again when you fall asleep at night. Just don’t use those memories as an escape from the present — its responsibilities, its growing pains & its pleasures. The argument that people travel to “escape reality” only comes into play when they actually use their experiences as an outer-body detour from living in the moment. All we have is now – the rest isn’t guaranteed to you, so use it wisely.
It’s not easy to be in the present, just like it wasn’t easy to adjust to culture shock or navigate jetlag. But aren’t you glad you did it? While you heart may be pulling you far away, remind yourself that you are here right now. And this is exactly where you need to be. Living in the moment will not deter you from going back, it will simply allow you to make the most of opportunities that can bring equally fantastic adventures. Yes, travel snob, even if they’re in your own backyard.