We’ve all been there. The second you land back home and see your family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, and that kid you went to high school with, everybody is going to ask you the same thing– “How was your study abroad semester?” Most of the time your answer will simply be “It was amazing/awesome!” and much to your dismay, that will pretty much be the end of the conversation. It’s sort of a loaded question, and it’s difficult to answer. Not being able to fully talk about your experiences abroad is one of the hardest parts of reverse culture shock. It’s all you want to talk about and often times it feels like nobody wants to listen. So here are some tips to help you share your stories without making your friends and family feel bored or alienated.
Pick out your adjectives in advance
It sounds a little silly, but the good ol’ thesaurus can be your best friend when trying to answer this question. Your initial reaction is to blurt out the words “amazing!” and “awesome!”, because it was amazing and awesome. But so is pizza and The Avengers, so those adjectives lose their meaning pretty quickly. And because we can all relate to an awesome experience, it doesn’t push the conversation further. Really try and think about your experience and figure out the best and most specific way to describe it. Maybe your study abroad experience was “Humbling”. An answer like that is likely to open the floor to a follow-up question like, “How so?”. Now you can keep going and talk about why studying abroad was so awesome.
Have specific stories to tell
You could talk for days on end about studying abroad, so don’t get caught in an incoherent ramble trying to quickly talk about everywhere you went and everything you did, saw, and ate there. Talk about a specific story or memory instead. Have a few in mind and ready to be shared. Think about the best thing you ate, the most adventurous thing you did, and the place so beautiful it actually took your breath away -those are perfect go-to’s. Plus, when you’re really passionate about the story you’re telling, it’ll show, and whoever you’re telling will be just as excited to hear it! I always go with London street food, caving in Budapest, and the Scottish Highlands.There’s bonus points if you have photos to accompany your stories!
Know your audience
Think about who just asked you that question. Was it your Great Aunt June? (Maybe don’t tell her about that wild pub crawl in Dublin that got out of control.) Or are you talking to a group of your college friends at a party? (Odds are they’re not in the mood to hear about your self-guided tour of an 18th century estate house in the English countryside.) Your audience will be more interested in hearing about your study abroad experience if you talk to them about something they’re interested in as well.
Let your friends and family talk about themselves too
Don’t be a conversation hog! The last thing you want to do is come off all self-absorbed and better-than-you just because you’re fresh off a semester’s worth of worldly experiences. Ask them what’s new in their lives and what they’ve been up to while you were away. Chances are your questions will probably be met with close-ended replies such as “not much” or “the same”, so better yet, ask them about their past travels or future travel plans. My favorite conversation after I arrived home was with my uncle who let me go on and on about my trip to Italy and then told me all about his time in Italy from years ago. Although our trips were vastly different, we bonded over the best pistachio gelato we ever ate in Firenze. It was comforting to realize I wasn’t the only one in my family who had ever traveled abroad, and it was refreshing to let someone else do the talking for a bit.
Remember to let them know you’re happy to be home (even if you’re not)
Everyone reacts to coming home after studying abroad differently. Some people can’t wait to be home, some people dread going home, and most people leave with that bitter-sweet in between feeling. But no matter how you’re feeling when you arrive home, it’s important to remember to let your friends and family know you’re happy to be home and happy to see them again. Because they’re really happy to have you home and see you again.
Find support from other post-study abroaders
The truth is, someone who hasn’t studied abroad is never going to “get it” the way that people who have studied abroad just “get it”. Your best friend might let you go on and on all you want about your experience, but if she never spent a semester or short-program abroad herself, she won’t fully understand. So if you’re itching to talk about studying abroad and you just can’t find any relief, talk to other people who have studied abroad. From your best friends you traveled the world with right on down to complete strangers, people who have studied abroad just “get it”, and it will feel so good to talk to them about it. Many universities have programs for post-study abroaders that allow students to gather and share their stories with each other, as well as encourage other students to take advantage of study abroad programs. Staying involved and staying connected with the study abroad community seriously helps with the reverse culture shock. And simply sharing your story is the best way to keep answering that wonderfully complicated question.
Photo sources: extranoise via Flickr, lau_kazza via Flickr