Leaving for the start of your year abroad feels like the beginning of an adventure to explore somewhere completely new. The chance to live in a foreign country with a different culture, language and people can be exciting but it can also be a shock to the system – something we are warned about and know to prepare for. My complete immersion into Beijing life made for an exhilarating and unforgettable year abroad, but focusing so much on the good times means that, one year later, it can be easy to forget what it’s actually like when we come home for good.
After surviving a year abroad, you don’t think about being unprepared upon returning home, but it happens more frequently than you’d think – it being ‘reverse culture shock’.
Sometimes, it can be this weird feeling you can’t put your finger on that comes in waves of lethargy, sadness, awkwardness. Or it can simply be the feeling of being overwhelmed, because who’d have thought you wouldn’t adapt straight away to life back home? Maybe it is well-meaning friends, who are excited to see you after a year apart, but this can add to the pressure to settle straight in and get on with it. Social media only goes so far in telling the story; ‘so what was China like?’ began to be my most dreaded question. How can you begin to explain a year’s worth of memories and emotions into something shorter than a TED talk?
The little things you notice about your own culture are thrown into stark relief compared to what you had previously become accustomed to, for better and for worse. I’d forgotten about the cringe-worthy pavement dance with strangers that we do; a stark contrast to the pushing and shoving on the Beijing subway, but this awkward politeness also reminded me of why I missed home. The pace of life may seem slower in the UK than on your year abroad, which feels like everyday is an adventure, a challenge to discover and try something new. It was a continuous adrenaline rush and I was an addict; suddenly away from it all – cold turkey – I was having major withdrawal symptoms.
For me, it was mainly my sudden loss of freedom and independence – on my year abroad, it was just me, myself and I. Coming home after a year of care-free travelling, I was back living with my parents in the middle of the countryside compared to the constant hustle of Beijing. For a year, I hadn’t had to ask my parents for a lift into town, when the subway in Beijing was a convenient 10 minutes away. What’s more, you’ve changed, as has everyone else at home. I’d learnt to be independent, fend for myself and survive 33-hour train journeys. But I had also missed out on so much of other people’s lives – relationships, graduation, new jobs, even babies! – as they have missed out on mine. Everything is the same but it isn’t.
Just remember, it’s ok to get reverse culture shock – relax for the first few days at home, get back into a routine, make plans with your friends that you can look forward to. Go back and revisit your favourite haunts and gorge yourself on all the food you have missed. You might miss your home from home and your friends from across the globe, but you’re all the better for this marvelous experience we call ‘Year Abroad’. And don’t forget to smile – whether it’s the memories of your crazy time away or just the surrealness of finally coming home…
Written by Hannah-Mei Grisley
The UoB Linguist Magazine
Guild of Students,
University of Birmingham