Coming Back Feels like Culture Shock Too

study abroad Scotland group photo loch

Kirsty Richard is a student at Franklin and Marshall College. She studied abroad with IFSA-Butler in Scotland with the University of Edinburgh Parliamentary Internship Program.

Returning home from a semester abroad is a surprisingly difficult and uncomfortable task. You just spent 4 or 5 months living in a new country, with new people, having new experiences on a daily basis.

Transitioning back to your home university and suddenly being back with people you haven’t seen in months is going to feel weird. And that’s okay.

It took me a while to like my school again, which brought up all kinds of challenges. I felt conflicted between a desire to return to the excitement of being abroad and wanting to make the most of being back at home.

I studied abroad in Edinburgh, Scotland with IFSA Butler’s University of Edinburgh Parliamentary Internship Program. I took 5 weeks of classes at the beginning of the semester on British politics and Scottish culture, then spent 10 weeks interning in the Scottish Parliament. My program consisted of around 20 students.

study abroad Scotland group photo

We lived together, took classes together, worked at the Parliament together, traveled together, etc. That group of people became my new normal. I also joined the University’s skydiving club, and spent a lot of time with that group. We’d often spend weekends together away at the skydiving airfield. The memories I have with those groups of people will always have a special place in my heart. Knowing that leaving Edinburgh and ending my semester abroad meant also saying goodbye to that normal was really difficult to accept.

I had very seriously considered extending my semester to a full year at the University of Edinburgh. My parents were very supportive, but my friends at home, not so much.

I felt really conflicted. I wanted so badly to stay a full year, because I couldn’t imagine leaving a city that I had started to think of as a home, but I also of course missed my actual home. My dad told me that no matter what I decided to do, I would regret not having chosen the other option, and (as usual) he was right.

study abroad Scotland group photo

I ended up returning to my home school, Franklin & Marshall College, after only one semester abroad. At first, I couldn’t have regretted my decision more. I missed everything about being in Edinburgh and tried desperately to remember what it was about F&M that I used to love so much. I felt hesitant to talk to my friends at F&M about how I was feeling, because I wasn’t sure if they would understand. I didn’t want my friends to think that I regretted choosing a semester with them over a second semester abroad.

With time, I became confident that I had made the right decision. If I could offer any advice to someone returning from study abroad who is struggling to adjust, it would be to lean on your friends.

Whether it’s someone who is also returning from a semester away or someone who was home while you were abroad, it’s simply easier to readjust when you have someone to talk to. It really is so crucial that you talk about your experiences. Becoming an IFSA Global Ambassador was incredibly helpful for me, because it gave me an outlet to speak about my experiences. Roughly 80% of my stories started with “when I was abroad….” and I realized that I needed a way to talk about my semester in Edinburgh without annoying all of my friends.

Scotland study abroad

It’s important to realize that just because your semester abroad is over, it doesn’t mean that you’re never going to do anything exciting again. That was something I struggled to grasp; it’s genuinely difficult to go from the independence and excitement of being abroad back to the same old day-to-day routine of home. So in the same way that students studying abroad are encouraged to join clubs and organizations, students returning from study abroad should be equally as encouraged to try new things at their home university.

If you take what your learned while abroad about trying new things and appreciating every opportunity and experience that come your way and apply that to your life back home, then your transition will be so much easier.

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