Everyone’s experience abroad is different – the location, the length of time away, the culture, the people. Each of us brings something unique home with us – but the common ground is that we are changed forever by these new-found experiences and perceptions.Here is an excerpt from Steve Jobs about the lasting influence from his time spent in India:
“Coming back to America was, for me, much more of a culture shock than going to India. The people in the Indian countryside don’t use their intellect like we do, they use their intuition instead, and their intuition is far more developed than in the rest of the world. Intuition is a very powerful thing, more powerful than intellect, in my opinion. That’s had a big impact on my work.
Western rational thought is not an innate human characteristic; it is learned and is the great achievement of Western civilization. In the villages of India, they never learned it. They learned something else, which is in some ways just as valuable but in other ways is not. That’s the power of intuition and experiential wisdom.
Coming back after seven months in Indian villages, I saw the craziness of the Western world as well as its capacity for rational thought. If you just sit and observe, you will see how restless your mind is. If you try to calm it, it only makes it worse, but over time it does calm, and when it does, there’s room to hear more subtle things – that’s when your intuition starts to blossom and you start to see things more clearly and be in the present more. Your mind just slows down, and you see a tremendous expanse in the moment. You see so much more than you could see before. It’s a discipline; you have to practice it. ”
Thank you Sexy Lu for your inspiration on this post.
If you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best. — Marilyn Monroe
Family and friends were there for you when you left, talked to you throughout the experience and are now back in your everyday life. These people care about you and want to hear about your stories. Understand however, that they didn’t live through the day-to-day experiences so try to have patience and save the extra fine details for your personal memory bank. It is a difficult time for both parties involved. On the one hand, they want to hear about how you had the most amazing coffee at the coolest cafe with the most awesome barista in your favorite neighborhood….BUT, quite frankly, don’t want to hear about it every other comment.
Blogs, emails, Facebook, etc. are great for keeping everyone up to date while you are away. That way when you return, everyone feels a bit more connected and in tune with places and experiences you are talking about.
Things to note:
1) Just as you have changed, so have many of your friends and family members. Don’t forget to ask about what has been happening/changing/exciting in their life as well!
2) Talk about it, but just not too much.
3) Surround yourself with positive and supportive people – they will be there for you through the ups and downs. Even if they can’t empathize with you, they can offer a listening ear.
Here are snippits from my journal entries throughout my experience in Oz:
Dazed and Confused. Today I was paralyzed with emotions. Literally walking around the city like a deer in headlights. I’m so sad about leaving everyone and wondering why I am doing this? Why did I have the desire inside myself to leave everyone and everything for an unknown world and adventure. I am scared, lonely wishing I had people I love around me.
Embrace Aloneness. “Feel things you never felt before”. Take in little things you wouldn’t notice with someone else’s opinion or input. Live in the moment and enjoy everything around you. Take in every emotion and feeling, and learn from it. Conquer that feeling. Independence= confidence.
End [Regret + Hope]
Home? Why did I leave? Should I have stayed longer? Why am I not happy here, but wasn’t fully happy there either? Why didn’t I put more thought into my decision to leave? My fear in life is missing out – missing out on experiences, meeting new people, understanding new perspectives, becoming more whole. The innovation, the excitement, the inspiration, the novelty, the beauty, the people [there]. I feel like I missed out, I gave up too soon. I wonder if this will ever go away? At first the prospect of something new and exciting shadowed those regrets however at this point in my existence my mind is clouded by this regret. I know there was a reason I left and I will be happy here…but it’s hard to see that purpose right now. Why doesn’t anyone really get it? What is wrong with me??
Little depressed by the end of the story? Don’t be! It gets better, I promise.
It’s time to make the last chapter in your adventure an easier transition filled with new relationships and a support system just like the one you created when you went abroad!
Struggle street is prime real estate for world travelers. I know 98% of what you are going through right now. First and foremost: nothing (and I mean nothing short of the ‘forget machine’ in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) can evaporate all you have accomplished in the last year. The perception you have right now about trying to readjust to an old life style? Forget it. Old or new life, you are infinitely awesome because guess what: you are you. People have short attention spans (Peace Corps staff said the average is about 30 seconds before someone asking “how was peace corps?” gets bored). It might be the same with Australia, but it’s not a reflection on you; it’s on the person you are talking to. My best advice for you now is to use all you have learned (about yourself, about the business world, about living independently) and make your life amazing. Be the person who can’t wait to see the how big this world really is. Struggle street has a ‘no-loitering’ policy so I think you’ll be moving along very very soon. — Tobias Hewitt [Peace Corps Member and Life Enthusiast]
As an intrepid traveler and avid adventure seeker I have experienced many goodbyes and hellos. What I didn’t expect about my latest journey of working abroad in Sydney, Australia, was that the toughest part would be, coming back. How the heck could anything be scarier than moving to a foreign country with zero friends? Life is full of surprises. Anyways, don’t be a Debbie Downer – fit the below tips into your days for some happier times ahead:
Find excitement in the little things – you can always discover something new; even if it’s in the things you have been doing all of your life. Talk to someone different at the store or coffee shop – you might discover more people are in your shoes than you think. While abroad you are constantly over stimulated with new and exciting stimuli – find these things close to home. Whether that is a day trip, weekend getaway, a new hike, a farmers market, a new recipe, etc. There are also tons of great event happening sites (lifecrowd.com, meetup.com, etc.).
Challenge yourself – Take up a new hobby or sign up for an athletic challenge. Before I left for Australia I signed up for a full triathlon 2 months after I would return. This kept my focus and my endorphins flowing in the right direction. Whether your challenge is a physical or mental one, don’t be afraid to give it a go!
Write it out – Because most people won’t understand what you did or what you experienced, write about how you’re feeling, it can be therapeutic to word vomit in your journal. I also created a scrapbook to visually show people my Aussie life and more importantly for my personal reminiscing!
Keep in touch – keep in touch by writing letters or emails to your friends/colleagues back in your old home. This will help remind you that you won’t lose these people forever and you can still keep up on each other’s lives…just not as frequently. You won’t lose this part of your being, ever, and these relationships are a constant reminder.
Don’t ‘settle’ – remember that just because you are moving home, doesn’t mean you are ‘settling’. What a horrible word! I ran into an old friend a couple of days after returning and she happily exclaimed…‘back to reality!” I refrained from physical out lash and thought to myself – what the hell does that even mean! There is always room for adventure and exploration in your life – never settle for a life you aren’t proud of. Get a job, a volunteer position or your own personal endeavor to utilize all of your skills and experiences that you have acquired abroad.
Never stop culturing – explore ways to incorporate global culture into your life – whether you go to work for a global company, help with a non-profit that works in a different part of the world, eat food from other places, book a trip somewhere new. Whatever that might be – it will help you maintain a sense of cultural wholeness.