It wasn't the usual college semester.
You made friends from all over the world, traveled to five or six countries, replaced peanut butter with Nutella, saw historical sights that were normally only available to you in a textbook and even fell in love with a boy or girl from Australia, Germany, Brazil or some other distant part of the world.
It wasn't the usual college semester, because you spent this one studying abroad.
You didn't want it to end, but as the final day of the term rolled around you had to pack up your bags and board a plane, not only saying goodbye to new friends that became family, but also a new country that became home.
Coming home after a semester abroad isn't easy. You miss the friends you made and your usual hangouts. That sense of freedom that comes with the travel mentality becomes at risk. You start to wonder if you'll ever return to a certain place again and if you do, will it feel the same? But before you go into a deep state of depression due to your reverse culture shock - remember that just because you’re home doesn't mean this great experience has to end.
Extending Your Study Abroad Experiences Back Home
For all the study abroad alum out there who aren't quite ready to unpack their bags and return to their old lives, here are a few ways to keep the study abroad experience alive and maybe even pass it on to future generations.
Treat your return home like a traveler would
It can be hard to get back into the swing of your "old life" after spending a long period of time abroad. You might find yourself resenting where you came from or judging the way things are at home based on that of your adopted culture. Just like when you’re traveling, remember that the way different countries or cultures do things isn't better or worse, just different. Treat these differences with a thirsty curiosity to learn more about them and experience them.
After being away from home for so long - you almost become a stranger to it, so treat your return home like you did your arrival into a completely new place. Ask questions about people's lives, different practices that were once monotones to you, but now stand out and get to know the area again or even venture to places you never did before. Remember, the same way you revere a place like Paris due to your study abroad experience there, a Parisian might revere your hometown. Treat it with the same respect and curiosity as you do places abroad.
Share your new lessons and habits with everyone
Just because you no longer live in a country doesn't mean you have to lose all the things you learned or habits you picked up from that place. Whether you got into the swing of drinking Mate with friends every morning in Argentina or picked up a love of sake in Japan, keep the little things about your life abroad present in your life at home.
Just because you no longer live in a country doesn't mean you have to lose all the things you learned or habits you picked up from that place.
Cook foods you ate in your study abroad country back at home. Go out of your way to maintain them and find interesting ways to share these things with friends and family. They want to know about your experience as much as you want to keep it alive. Something like hosting a tea party, based on what you learned during your stay in England is a fun way to keep your experience abroad present, while sharing it with others.
Know when to stop talking to your friends about traveling
Yes, people at home want to hear stories from your time abroad. They just don't want to hear about it all the time. This is no reason to feel like no one understands you or that you can't connect with your friends anymore. It just means that not everyone in your life can relate to what you’ve experience and while they’re interested and maybe even inspired by your travels, they also have things in their life that they want to share with you.
Realize when you're talking way too much about travel and find people to turn to, even if they're total strangers. Social networks like Facebook and Twitter are a hot bed for finding people with similar interests. Start following different travelers or even travel bloggers (like Go Overseas' writers!) and chat with them from time to time about your adventures. You can also turn to those people that you studied abroad with and talk about old times or future adventures whether it be over lunch or over Skype.
Get involved in travel-related activities on campus or in your community
You're not the only person who loves travel. In fact, most people dream of traveling or have already traveled and are just as enthusiastic as you to talk about it -- you just have to find them.
If you are returning to your university to finish your degree, maybe use extra general electives to take a foreign relations or anthropology class. Find travel related Meet-ups or local Couchsurfers. Through these activities and courses, you'll continue learning about foreign cultures and meet people who are just as interested in them as you. You can also join the international club, culture club, or similar groups on campus.
Become a study abroad ambassador
The best sort of person to represent different foreign schools and study abroad programs is a former alum, especially one who is passionate about keeping their own study abroad experience alive. Contact the company you did your study abroad program with about the opportunities that are available to you.
As an ambassador, you'll be asked to talk to students about your experience during various fairs and events (to people who definitely want to hear about it!) You'll be able to share stories and explain why it's had such a lasting affect on you. You might even get a chance to travel as a study abroad ambassador, whether it be to other colleges to speak or abroad to help assist new study abroad students.
Document or review your study abroad experience
You'll want to remember your time abroad and maybe even share it with the public. Whether you just keep a journal and write down any moments that come to mind and make you smile after returning home, or you write an informative blog that’s open to the public, there are endless ways to document your experience. Open yourself up to all the creativity that might spawn from your experience. Write a post about what it was like when you arrived at University of Dundee in Scotland and how you overcame being homesick. And don't forget to leave a review your study abroad program on websites like Go Overseas, so that others know what to expect.
You'll want to remember your time abroad and maybe even share it with the public... keep a journal and write down any moments that come to mind and make you smile after returning home.
If writing isn't your thing, enter that epic photo you took of the Great Wall of China into a local arts competition or maybe even one hosted by National Geographic or any number of competitions. Put together a montage of photos or videos and share it with the company you studied abroad with or your own study abroad office on campus and see if they want to use it.
Paint, sculpt, sketch, based on the things that inspired you abroad. Even if you don't consider yourself creative, find a way to just get all those moments from your trip and emotions upon coming home onto canvas.
Work at your study abroad office or for other travel companies
Travel costs money no matter how much you budget for travel. So chances are you're going to be in need of a job after returning home from a semester abroad. Why not find a job in the travel industry?
This can mean office work at the study abroad office on campus. It can mean working at an STA location if there is one close to you. You could run tours in your local city or even tours of your campus.
Anything that allows you to meet people who are interested in traveling or are actually traveling. Inevitably, travel is never about a place you visit, but the people you meet there and experiences you have with them. Working in some sort of job that promotes travel or assists it, allows you to have those same moments with people even in your hometown.
Travel, travel, travel!
One thing you might notice when traveling is how many people actually want to visit your country or maybe even the area you are from. Every corner of the world is a destination -- even your backyard. So instead of coming home and putting your suitcase away in the attic -- keep traveling.
Take any and every opportunity to do it, whether that means driving an hour to a town that was once the bike-making capital of the world or boarding a domestic flight to see the Grand Canyon. America is home to the number one tourist attraction in the world: Times Square, Yosemite, New Orleans' French Quarter, the list goes on.
Treat this country and your home state -- like a traveler would -- by touring it, learning about it and getting to know the locals. Take advantage of all the places and things to do in your homeland, because you might not always have that opportunity. Who knows when you'll be jetting off again for a foreign land. More importantly -- who knows when or if you'll ever return from your next stint abroad.
Just because your semester abroad has finished - doesn't mean the experience is over. In fact, the people you met, moments you shared with them and things you saw and learned will stay with you for the rest of your life. Hopefully these suggestions will help you find away to share your experience and keep it in your day-to-day life.Photo Credits: API Study Abroad.