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Coming Home – Why Was it So Hard?

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My Abroad Experience

I had the wonderful opportunity of studying in Belfast, Northern Ireland at Queen’s University with IFSA-Butler during the spring of 2016. During my abroad experience, I made many new friends who were locals, and adjusted to a new lifestyle. Being a military kid, I was very used to moving around the United States and adapting to new places I’d never seen before, so the initial adjustment into the Northern Irish life wasn’t too difficult. I adapted to a city lifestyle very quickly and successfully maintained a weekly routine for my academics and my traveling schedule. Overall, my abroad experience was one that I genuinely enjoyed, and I wouldn’t have changed a thing. Donegal coastline Northern Ireland study abroad coming home

Coming Home

However, the biggest problem I had with my study abroad experience was coming home. I specifically remember the day I got to the Belfast International Airport to fly home. I was extremely excited and couldn’t wait to see my friends and family, whom I hadn’t seen in five and a half months. To add even more excitement to the story, I wasn’t even going “home.” My family moved across the United States from Colorado Springs, CO all the way to Fort Knox, KY in the middle of my semester abroad. So I was flying home from Northern Ireland to another unfamiliar place. Growing up completely used to moving all the time and adjusting to new places, I was excited to live in a new state with my family for a month over the summer before I prepared to go back to college in North Carolina. However, it did not take me long to realize how different Northern Ireland and Fort Knox, KY were.

Two completely different cultures in 24 hours

When I finally arrived in Kentucky after a long day of traveling, I remember laying in my bed thinking of all the things I can’t do anymore now that I’m home. I couldn’t go to the student union and get my favorite meal deal for lunch, I couldn’t go to the local pub down the road from my accommodation after classes with friends and order a pint of Guinness, I couldn’t go for a relaxing jog through the Botanical Gardens parallel to the University. I compiled a seemingly never-ending list of things I could no longer do now that I was home.
For some reason, this move from Northern Ireland to Kentucky was the hardest adjustment I’ve ever experienced—even after moving 12 times growing up in a military family.
Why was I so down? Why could I not describe what I was feeling? Why was this move in particular so hard to deal with?

Studying abroad makes you grow more than you expect

I finally realized why I was feeling this way. Studying abroad was my first experience of being a true individual. I was on my own figuring out a whole new country. I didn’t have my parents there with me, I didn’t know anyone in my program, and I did not know what to expect at all going into my trip. Being immersed in an unfamiliar place allowed me to constantly adapt in the face of adversity, and figure out each obstacle on my own. For me, digressing back to my familiar university life made me feel like my adaptation to the Northern Ireland life was pretty much for nothing. However, I soon realized how much I actually grew as an individual. I came back to my home university with a completely different point of view. I was more confident and more comfortable with myself.  Since returning, I feel as if I am a better student—I manage my time, and I’m not as afraid to reach out to individuals on campus, whether it be friends, asking professors for help, or going to various campus offices for help with my undergraduate career. All in all, coming home was extremely difficult for me, but I soon realized how much studying abroad helped shape my character as an individual, and how my life would genuinely not be the same had I not spent a semester in Northern Ireland. Re-entry is in no way the same for everyone. But it is important to recognize that re-entry challenges exist, and that there are several ways to manage re-entry challenges during the first weeks of being back in the US. Even for me, writing about my experience has really helped me to further articulate what I was going through during my re-entry, and assess how many benefits came out of my abroad experience. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your study abroad office to see what you can do to be more involved with other study abroad students and international students on campus. Talking about your experience with other students who have also studied abroad makes for a great way to relate with other students and make yourself feel better about the re-entry challenges. Coming home may pose an unexpected and annoying challenge, but it does get better over time and makes you a stronger individual in the long run. Rob Sketch is a student at Wake Forest University and studied abroad with IFSA-Butler in Northern Ireland at Queen’s University Belfast in spring 2016.