Now that you’ve returned from your experience abroad, you might be thinking, “now, what?” Luckily, you’re not alone. This confusing feeling is a common side effect of reverse culture shock, a series of stages adapting back to your native culture. Other symptoms of reverse culture shock include disengagement in personal relationships, readjustment issues, and even depression.
For instance, a little over a month ago, I returned from a semester abroad in Bangalore, India. I’m still coping as I adjust back to American culture. It’s a process that takes time. However, with the energy you still have, it’s important to make the best of it. Now, you’ve earned the resources from an international perspective. Now, it’s time to utilize your resources and new global insight for personal development and the betterment of others. Don’t let your experience disappear. Use your homecoming energy as an opportunity to inspire and engage others with stories from your experience abroad.
Sammy Bell, a recent graduate from Ramapo College of New Jersey, studied abroad through Arcadia University’s program in Barcelona, Spain last spring. She serves as a prime example of how to integrate your study abroad experience after you return home and throughout the rest of your life. After interviewing her, I curated a list of suggestions to successfully incorporate your international experience into the rest of your life.
1. Reflect on life at home prior to your experience. Critically analyze your surroundings. “When I returned to America, I started to question my relationships with the people around me,” Bell explains, “I really started to appreciate what I have and the value in good people. I wanted to interact with people I can learn from, who are different from me.”
2. Acknowledge a new sense of self-independence. Studying abroad takes a fair amount of courage. “Buying my own groceries, managing my own money and navigating and exploring the city on my own were all things that helped me in gaining independence. While maneuvering through international airports and navigating through the cities of a foreign country, I learned that I am more resourceful than I thought.” Recognize your new found confidence.
3. Market the skills you’ve acquired abroad. International experience increases the appeal of your resume and professional background. Add your study abroad program, and a level of foreign language proficiency if you learned one, to your resume. Talk about your experience in job interviews. Integrate your trip into your cover letters and statements of purpose. Even if a position or program is based in your native culture, there’s still a way to market a diverse, global experience into your application materials. “I gained many valuable qualities and life-skills,” Bell adds, “I am more culturally aware and open-minded. I also learned how easily I can adapt to new environments and situations. Studying in Barcelona forced me to practice Spanish.”
4. Incorporate your experience abroad into your post-graduation plans. Consider teaching, volunteering, or attending a graduate program abroad.“My study abroad experience left me yearning to find another way to go back abroad,” Bell elaborates, “Almost finished with my undergraduate degree, I realized I no longer had any interest in continuing to pursue a career in my current major. I began to channel all of my passion into pursuing a career in international education.” In the fall, Bell will be traveling to Thailand to live and teach abroad for a year.
5. Encourage other students to study abroad. Share stories from your journey with everyone. “I was still on my study abroad high and told anyone willing to listen about my four months in Spain,” Bell describes.
6. Join a campus organization dedicated to study abroad or related interests. After her semester abroad, Bell joined the Ramapo College Global Roadrunners as a senior and served as an Event Coordinator. Bring your semester back to your college campus. Because of her academic achievements, she later joined Phi Beta Delta International Honor Society.
Additionally, Bell offers other twenty-something recent college graduates a profound piece of advice: “It’s easy to tell yourself that you can put off your goal of living abroad and seeing the world until after you get your first job, until your student loans are paid off, you’ll do it next year and beyond, but the time is right now. Some people will support your decision and others won’t understand it, but you have to make decisions for yourself. You have the potential to make a large impact on the world, just like how the world has made a large impact on you.”
Bell, myself, and the rest of the Bridge From Abroad community encourage you to use your experience abroad for a greater purpose. Stop asking “now, what” and get out there! The world awaits.
Have questions for Sammy? Mention @SammmyBell in a tweet!