Toward the end of my first study abroad trip with the Mount in Salzburg, Austria in June of 2018, Dr. Rosenfeld, the director of our trip, warned us about such a feeling of post-study abroad nostalgia. He explained a German term called “fernweh” where the literal translation into English means “far-sickness.” But the essence of the word is another German phrase that you might recognize, wanderlust: the feeling of missing where you have been and wanting to go back, or wanting to travel somewhere far away, or missing the feeling or time when you were in a faraway place.
What makes the post-study abroad “reverse culture shock” so hard is that people who did not study abroad or went with you on that trip have no idea what you are going through. You can tell your parents over and over about all the fun you had, and you can try to explain to your friends all the funny memories and stories, but after a while they will get sick of you talking about it (trust me, I know this from personal experience). Only you and the people you studied abroad with have the exact understanding you do about your trip, and when you don’t see those people anymore, it can be hard to share and relate your experiences to others. When I would feel sad or nostalgic about my time abroad, I tried some things to help get over that “reverse-culture shock” and get out of my head a little bit. Here are some ways that I’ve found to cope well with this study abroad nostalgia:
- Realize you are a different person now. Your perspectives have changed. Your outlook on the world is more global. You don’t have the same opinions as your friends anymore. You went through a time of self-development and self-growth, whereas your peers who had another normal semester at your university have not. This realization can be frustrating but keep a journal or stay in touch with your study abroad pals to help get through the “re-adjustment to life back home” period.
- Keep your memories alive. Snapchat already does a great job of doing this for us, but in times you are feeling nostalgic, go through your pictures, re-tell all of the stories with your friends, and laugh about the funny times with the people you studied abroad with. Reminiscing about your time abroad might bring sadness at first because you miss it, but it will bring you joy and gratefulness to look back on those amazing memories. Print out your photos, make a scrapbook, put together an iMovie, or look over your study abroad journal.
- Encourage others to take the same leap of faith you did. There are two benefits to encouraging others to study abroad. First, it is yet another reason to talk about your study abroad experience and share why it was so amazing. And second, you can inspire others to have a similar amazing experience to what you had. I’m sure someone along the way when you were considering studying abroad or not gave you the nudge you needed to make the decision to go. Be that person for your friend, cousin, sibling, or classmate.
- Keep exploring. Your traveling adventures do not have to stop once you reach home. Explore more of your own town, city, state, or country. Plan or brainstorm trips that you want to take in the future to keep your spirits high. Since I came back from my semester abroad last fall, I’ve been able to travel to Florida, New York, Colorado, Connecticut, and D.C. Now, I am in the middle of planning a trip to Ireland to visit some of my friends who are studying abroad in Dublin this semester.
My post-study abroad nostalgia has led me to stay involved with the Foreign Study Office at the Mount in two ways. This semester, I am assisting Dr. Kennedy in the Communication Department with the Mount’s Travel Blog as her intern, assisting her with managing and producing content. I am also pursuing research into the impact that studying abroad has on the college student experience as my honors program research project which will culminate in the spring. I am excited to learn more about the study abroad experience from a research perspective and to share my findings with the Mount community. My ultimate goal is to inspire more students at the Mount to make study abroad part of their college experience.