In preparing to live overseas you were probably given a lot of advice from well meaning family, friends, coworkers, and study abroad counselors. As you return to life at home you'll soon find that, while people don’t really warn you about it, the process of returning home can be even more difficult than going abroad.
Not to burst your bubble, but when you return home you’ll be expected get through customs and jump immediately back into your pre-departure routine. The only problem is months or year(s) have gone by and you’re not the same person anymore. Your experiences coupled with the expectations of those well meaning, family, friends, and coworkers can make for a daunting reentry process. On top of all this, your world back home won’t pause or give you time to adjust, you have work or class, and those all-important social obligations to maintain.
One of the biggest adjustments, at least for me, was that while abroad the lives of family and friends did not pause, they had their own new experiences and changed a lot. Basically I missed out on a lot and my relationships changed as a result. People moved, changed majors or left all without my knowledge. All these changes made coming home feel like coming back to an alternate universe.
Horace Miner, an anthropologist who studied the NACIREMA people best described this sensation when he wrote: “Body Ritual Among the Nacirema” in 1956. In Miner’s short article he depicts the life of the Nacirema as an alien or foreign visitor would, looking at the lives of the people through the lens of new observer.
I’ll give you a moment to go read it. Finished? Good.
If you haven’t guessed (I definitely didn’t until a second or third reading) Miner’s Nacirema is a study of SPOILER ALERT: the American population (Nacirema is American spelled backwards).
His article can be interpreted as depicting the return process which can be difficult and overwhelming, especially when you already feel somewhat sad and depressed in leaving the amazing people and experiences from abroad. Knowing this and being aware is first step in getting through it and you should know that the process of reentry is something we all go through to varying degrees.
The best tip I have for those of you about to undergo reentry or in the middle of it now, is to look at reentry as a process with ups and downs and multiple steps; not unlike the original culture shock experience you went through at the beginning of your journey. Most importantly remind yourself that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and that it’s the ups and downs of your experiences that make them great. So if you feel slightly bummed out and in need of taking a break, do so, for a minute then jump back in to life knowing things will start looking up (or at least get more “normal”) soon.