You did it! You took a leap of faith and decided to study in Costa Rica for a week, a month, or even a semester. You brushed up on your conversational Spanish, tried a tasty green mango, and zipped through the treetops on the zip line. Now, you’re back in the United States with stories to share and experiences to last you a lifetime. Life doesn’t get much better than that. Let’s stop and think about this for a minute though, is it really that simple? Can you really come back from living abroad and jump right back into the life you were living pre-Costa Rica? We’ve searched the depths of the internet (and our own minds) for useful information to help ease you back into life on American soil.
1 – Learn how to articulate your experience.
You may have decided to live abroad with the idea in mind that it would be a great resume builder (or maybe you just wanted to have some good stories to share with your friends upon your return). Regardless of your reason(s) for going abroad, it is important to know how to put your experience into words. If you went abroad with the intention of using the experience as a resume builder, you’ll need to know how to express your experience in writing on your resume and how to speak clearly about the value of what you learned. Begin by asking yourself some useful questions to mentally unpack your time abroad. What skills did I learn that will matter in my career? How did I grow as an individual? What did I struggle with while I was abroad? Once you have asked yourself these questions (and maybe more), think about how you would condense the most important parts into a 30-second elevator pitch for anyone who asks. You don’t have to give all of the details, but hit the main points that will make your future employer want to know more. (This will also help you become a phenomenal story teller with your friends without boring them with too many details!)
2 –Learn how to deal with “Reverse Culture Shock” in a positive way.
In 2008, I had my first study abroad experience. I loved it so much that I almost didn’t want to come home. I was certain that the culture shock and “big university” shock (my home university was a small private school in St. Louis, MO) was going to be the toughest adjustment during my study abroad experience. I was wrong. To my surprise, the toughest adjustment I experienced actually came right after I arrived back home. I was experiencing what one may call “reverse culture shock”.
My reverse culture shock came in waves of sadness, elation, and frustration. I was sad because I missed the “new life” I had created while I was abroad – my friends, the routine, my favorite places, etc. At the same time, I was elated to see my family and friends. Between the sadness and the elation, I also found myself going through stages of frustration. Why didn’t anyone understand just how incredible my past 6 months had been? Why didn’t their lives stop when I got back? Why did my bedroom have to flood while I was gone, forcing me to live in our spare bedroom and live out of my suitcase? I felt utterly displaced in what should have felt like my home.
There is good news here…all of the feelings of reverse culture shock wear off, just as culture shock does. The best ways I found of dealing with reverse culture shock involved writing (a LOT of writing), drinking copious amounts of hot tea (just like I did while abroad), talking to my friends who were still abroad, and being honest with the people around me about the things I was struggling with. There are many ways to cope with reverse culture shock so it is best to find what works for you. (If you want to read more about reverse culture shock, please reference the useful links at the bottom of this list.)
3 – Stay involved with UGA Costa Rica and others from your program.
As a member of the UGA Costa Rica family, we want to know how you are doing! We love hearing about your experiences and catching up with you post-study abroad. We also find it extremely valuable for other students to hear from their peers what they experienced while abroad. It is encouraging for prospective students, who may be facing some of the same hesitations you first had about going abroad, to hear that it was an experience worth having. We often host fun reunion and alumni events that we want you to be part of as well. Make sure you keep up with us on Facebook and Twitter for all of the latest and greatest!
Another group to stay connected with is the students in your program. You never know who may have a future job connection for you! Plus, it helps to have a group of people who shared your experience to talk with when you may be feeling the frustration of reverse culture shock. Create a Facebook group and start re-connecting!
(Another useful tip: Stay in contact with your program instructors because you may need them to write you a recommendation one day!)
4- Submit a photo or video for the International Photo & Video Contest.
Every year the Office of International Education sponsors a photo and video contest during International Education Week (Nov. 11-15). This is a great opportunity for you to share a small piece of your experience with other students, staff, and faculty. Entries for this year’s contest are being accepted through Monday, November 4 (TODAY!). Prizes will be awarded 1st-3rd place for each category and will be announced on Friday, November 15 at the International Student Life Coffee Hour in the Memorial Hall Ballroom from 11:30a-1:30a.
5 – Plan your next trip.
Now that you have experienced life in another country, continue learning about the world (or even just the community) around you. Let your inner-tourist thrive by going on another trip abroad and mingling with the locals. If you can’t go abroad, travel to a different area of the United States and immerse yourself in the culture of the community. Or, you can always hop on over to the opposite side of Athens, GA and experience what a different neighborhood has to offer!