Dealing with the post-exchange comedown

You’ve done it. You survived halfway around the world on exchange, and you did it on your own. You probably studied a lot (ahem), partied a little, and made a bunch of new international friends.

But what happens when the crazy amount of travel and new experiences come to an end? Hitting the tarmac in Australia brings with it a rollercoaster of emotions that you won’t even see coming. Here’s a guide to make that landing a little smoother.

Reverse culture shock – it’s totally normal

Dr Julie Robert, a senior lecturer in the International Studies School at UTS, says that reverse culture shock is a normal process that everyone goes through when they come back after a long time away.

“There is a pattern to it. Originally when you’ll come home there’s a sense that you want to see everybody and go back and experience all of the things that you’ve missed,” she says. “And then, after a while, you’ll start missing the place that you’ve left [and] longing for those new experiences of 12 months ago or six months ago.”

Travelling and studying abroad will change you in ways you never expected, and this can put a strain on your old relationships.

This is something that Journalism and International Studies student Taylor Denny noticed after a year in Milan. “You see your family before you go, and then you come back and you’ve been to all these different places and eaten all this different food and spoken all these different languages,” she says. “You feel very changed but somehow they’re all exactly the same.”

Adjust your expectations

Finding a job, living at home again and returning to old routines is a big comedown after having your freedom overseas. It helps to be realistic about what you’re coming home to.

“At home there are still ground rules, or a sense of collaboration with housekeeping,” says Tiffany Lau, a Law and Business student who did six months in Switzerland last year. “[You have] to report things to your parents, which you would never do with your flatmates because everyone was so independent.”

You might also start to compare everything to life overseas. “I’m just super frustrated by the transport system here,” says Taylor. “You’ll never have such fantastic food as in Italy here.”

Enjoy your favourite things at home

While you may want to just jump on the next plane out of Oz, the best way to feel at home again is to remember why you loved it in the first place.

“If you find the beautiful beaches and fresh fruit and vegetables, and people to see, then it will be an OK adjustment,” says Taylor.

Plan small trips

Cure your post-travelling blues with… more travel! Small, budget-friendly weekend trips with friends and family will give you plenty to look forward to in the short-term.

Make changes, big and small

You don’t have to blindly slip back into the daily grind. Be spontaneous, try new things and meet new people. Whether you sign up for pole dancing or explore a new part of your city, there are heaps of things to keep your curious mind occupied.

Take stock of where you are and make changes to get where you want to go. Tiffany says after her exchange in Switzerland she decided to change her major. “It encouraged me to take a risk and to follow what I really want from life,” she says.

Talk with your globetrotting friends

Dr Robert says that people who are re-entering their culture can find support in others who are experiencing the same thing. A get-together with your mates who have come back after a long time away will make you realise that you are not alone.

Sarah Lansdown

Sarah is a Journalism and International studies student at University of Technology, Sydney. She is coming back to earth after a year in Canada.

Image: Nathanial KS, Flickr Creative Commons license