Studying abroad is temporary, but the experience is permanent. Upon approaching the inevitable end of time spent abroad, one generally is aware of the possibility of a reverse cultural shock, but can you really prepare for it? Emotions may go wild even before finding oneself in this weird situation of leaving the new home to go back to the old home. Happiness and sadness, all mixed up. Maybe certain regrets or relief, probably pride, excitement and thankfulness, occasionally anxiety and insecurity. Sound familiar? Of course! Because you probably had a lot of these feelings when you were about to go abroad, remember? Well then this should not come as a surprise because what lies ahead of you is yet another journey. Try to consider this and prepare yourself actively when you pack up your life abroad to return to your country.
What I left behind…
I stayed in Guayaquil, Ecuador studying at Universidad Casa Grande for a full year, so packing my bags was more difficult than I thought. You can accumulate a lot of stuff in a year – in both emotions and materials, though some of it is just this: stuff. And one can leave it behind. Like clothes that I hardly ever wore, some that aren’t even suitable for the climate back home, cosmetics that weigh a lot, decorations, stationary, etc. While throwing these away or passing them on to friends and my host family, I realized that I was picking apart my life here. I am leaving behind a home. Unfortunately, I can’t pack people into my suitcase. To focus on the bright side, I also left behind homesickness, communication problems and cultural insecurity!
What made my suitcase a lot heavier…
Were not just the many souvenirs for myself and my loved ones - and thankfully photos are digital these days, so they don’t weigh anything – but also my new favorite snacks, recipes of my favorite local dishes and obviously countless memories connected with every single item in my bag. As a surprise for my people back home, I also carry with me more flexibility, cheerfulness, generosity and a lot more patience. Ecuadorian characteristics the country and its people taught me.
Arriving and Unpacking
I sincerely hoped not to lose these new characteristics on my travel home to Germany but to my disappointment, people didn’t like the surprise. They expected me to act like the same person I was a year ago – only that I wasn’t that person anymore. I am happy and proud to have changed but around me everything seems to be exactly the same. Nothing has changed apart from me, a very frustrating thought. I unpacked my bag the night I came home because I wanted to “be home.” But almost two weeks later, I laugh about this thought because I am still arriving. Returning takes time. Sometimes it can take as long as adapting to a new culture. I have days on which I am totally happy to be back. On other days I think about Ecuador a lot and chat more with my host family than with the people I am living with now. Often I feel lost because I don’t feel present in either of the countries. And sometimes I even become angry at my friends or family for a harmless question about my experience. Because to me, it only shows how little they know about the culture I lived in and loved.
I do not think there is any cure for these circumstances, nor do I think they are entirely bad but simply difficult to handle. So my advice and main point is no more than the following: be prepared for the possibility of feeling like a foreigner back home, too!
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