It’s been almost a month since my last blog post updating everyone on where my dad and I were traveling in Europe (which I promise I will continue here soon), and almost exactly two months since I left Morocco.
I knew going into it, that studying abroad would change my perspectives on the world. I knew that I would see some pretty cool places and do some pretty incredible things… but what I didn’t know, was that I was going to long for Morocco every single day since leaving. I didn’t know I would become best friends with someone I would have written of just months earlier. I didn’t realize I would think so negatively towards more than a handful of things I used to do before exploring the world. Most of all, I didn’t think that I would become an advocate speaker for Muslims and feel a sense of responsibility to educate Americans (much like myself before studying abroad) about Islam and all the negative connotations that are associated. Studying abroad somewhere that is somewhat “unconventional,” changes you. You leave with a greater sense of pride and confidence in yourself to take on the “real world” when you return home. It was the greatest (and hardest) 4 months of my life… and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Before I dig back into the last half of my dad and I’s trip in Europe, I wanted to talk about culture shock. Reverse Culture Shock.
I think I heard more about reverse culture shock before studying abroad than I did hearing about the actual shock of studying abroad!
Here’s a list of things that maybe those of you who have also studied abroad (or simply traveled for an extended period of time) have felt at some point after returning home.
1. Realizing a lot of people might not care about your trip
I thought I would return home with everyone I’ve ever met asking me how my time in Morocco was – I mean, who wouldn’t be interested in all the great things I was interested in, right? Wrong.
When you’re abroad, you tend to forget that everyone back home is continuing their day-to-day life, usually running through the motions doing the same thing you were doing back home. You’re not thinking about them and they’re most likely only thinking about you every now and again as well. When I returned home, I had a few really good friends whose first conversation with me in four months was as if I hadn’t even left. I was upset when they didn’t even ask me how it was to be back home.
When you’re away for so long and learning a million new things every single day, you want to share those experiences with others – but you have to be careful and understanding when the people you’ve known forever don’t take interest in the details of your trip. It’s hard to not feel alienated in that kind of situation and I wish it was something I was aware might happen before leaving.
2. Overwhelmed with hearing English
I remember getting on the flight in Madrid that was connecting to Dallas and having the biggest headache I’ve ever experienced. Alongside hysterically crying and not wanting to return home yet, it was hard overwhelming (and annoying) hearing everyone within 100 feet speaking English. When you’re in a country that speaks a different language (in my case speaking Arabic) you become used to not knowing what anyone is saying. You become used to tuning everyone out and focusing on whoever is right in front of you. It was extremely overwhelming the first few days being able to tune into any conversation I wanted to. It was sensory overload. My tip – pack Tylenol for the flight home.
3. Technology Use
I’m not sure about anyone else’s study abroad experience, but I didn’t have much internet access. I had wi-fi in my apartment and when I was out at restaurants, but even then the wi-fi was incredibly slow and not worth trying to use. I became accustomed to leaving my phone in my apartment and never bringing it out with me because I wouldn’t be able to use it anyways. It was hard getting used to (practically) eating dinner by myself because everyone was on their phone. I really liked not being able to contact anyone whenever I wanted to and it in turn made my relationships stronger and allowed for more face-to-face conversations. It was one of my favorite aspects of studying abroad and one of my least favorite aspects of being back in the states.
4. Overwhelming Emotions
Thank the high heavens I had a week of being a shut-in at home before returning to school. I was an emotional wreck. I couldn’t stop thinking about all the amazing friends I left or my experiences or feeling alone and helpless. I laid in bed all week taking my frustrations out on my pillow, crying, and making future plans to study abroad again/travel after graduation. I still have days two months later where I hate myself for studying abroad because of how much fun I had and how being home doesn’t compare. Obviously, I am more than happy I studied abroad – but I hate that I still feel these overwhelming emotions and a deep sense of longing for a place I can’t return to any time soon.
5. Overwhelming OPTIONS
Why do we have over 50 types of cereals and pizzas to choose from? Grocery shopping (and clothing shopping) for the first time in the US was more than difficult. Even though I knew what I was going in to buy, I couldn’t stop staring at all the options. My jaw literally dropped looking at the rows and rows of food – not to mention people who stacked $300 worth of food into their cart like it was no big deal. I went to the grocery store in Morocco approximately two times and that was because we barely had any options to choose from and American snacks were ridiculously expensive. People in Morocco shopped for necessities – not for fun.
I remember the first time I got groceries in Morocco and I spent the equivalent of $20 USD (200 Dirham or so) and the lady behind the register looked at me like I was the most unpractical person she had ever seen – like I was spending an insane amount of money. Contrast that to my first grocery shopping trip back in America where I ended up only buying a bottle of coke and then walking out because I was so flustered and overwhelmed with all the options to choose from. Wal-Mart still gives me anxiety!
I was ignorant before studying abroad. I still consider myself ignorant because I am by no means an expert on every single culture in the world. But, I have learned a lot being away and can hold my own in an argument relating to world politics. I have found myself disagreeing with a lot more choices people make and statements people make and it’s not easy because often times it comes from the people you love. I’ve also had to realize that people haven’t seen what I have seen and may never get the opportunity to experience studying abroad, so you can’t hold it against them. I’ve learned to hold my tongue (more than I can count) on things that are small and petty, but it’s hard and something I have had to get used to since being back.
I don’t in any way wish I hadn’t studied abroad. It has made me who I am and has allowed me to grow as a person. I would absolutely recommend it to anyone who can fit it into their college career, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t hard – both while you’re abroad and when you return. Reverse culture shock isn’t easy, but it’s absolutely worth the minor difficulties when you look back and realize all the amazing sights you’ve seen, people you’ve met, and greater cultural understanding you leave with.
Have you studied abroad and experienced anything like this?
Leave some comments below – I would love to hear everyone else’s stories!