This weekend, our students were welcomed home by their friends and families for winter break. Two months away from home may not sound like a very long time, but our students kept pretty busy during their first trimester, adjusting to new countries, forming bonds with each other, and immersing in new cultures. It doesn’t take long to adjust to the lifestyle of traveling, meaning even when you miss home, returning can actually be quite difficult. So how do you handle reverse culture shock?
Talk it Out
If you already feel truly changed by your gap year, you might be frustrated that your peers at home are still the same. You might find yourself suddenly unsure of established friendships, but you can’t expect them to understand your transformation unless you talk to them about it. If people are interested in hearing your stories, tell them! That said, you can’t force people to understand how you’re different, and you can’t force them to change alongside you. You have to accept that certain interests or perspectives you once shared with friends may no longer be relevant – it’s just part of life.
Keep it Up
Another challenge can be coming back from freedom and adventure to a home where you have to answer to your parents again. It can be easy to slip back into old patterns and behaviors, even if you don’t intend to. Part of combating this means continuing to experience new things! Going from learning new skills in new countries everyday to following a strict routine is a big change. So work in new experiences where you can. Whether this means continuing to travel, picking up a class outside of your major or career, or starting a new hobby, feeding your need for adventure will help you adapt to your next chapter of life.
Stay in Touch
The only people who truly understand exactly what you went through on your gap year are the ones you traveled with! Make the effort to stay in touch with your peers, whether it be through social media, texting and calling, or in-person visits if you’re located closely enough. You can also stay connected with people you met around the world to stay updated on what’s going on in different countries. And if you go to college after your gap year, seek out others with study-abroad or gap year experience to make friends who you can relate to.
The fact is, there are some things that only time can heal. Your first few days, weeks, or even months back home may feel strange and uncomfortable. Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do to change that except wait it out. Cherish your memories and time traveling, of course, but don’t dwell on the past too much. You’ll get through this and be on to the next adventure, whatever that may be.