Return often turbulent

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Home isn’t so sweet when you’re coming back to -20 degree weather.

When I returned from my fall semester abroad in France last year, readjusting to the cooler climate was one of the easier parts of the transition. Reconnecting with friends and trying to meld my international experience with my Canadian identity were more difficult.

Studying in a foreign country is alluring for most students; it was definitely one of my better decisions. But you tend to focus on the experience abroad, not the bigger picture of coming back and applying those cross-cultural skills. Re-integration never crossed my mind as a potential downside.

I’d been warned about reverse culture shock — the process of re-adopting to your home country’s customs — before I left. Outgoing exchange students learn about common symptoms, such as irritability, confusion and disengagement. These feelings are real and more disruptive than one might think.

Things like sharing travel stories or keeping in touch with international friends induce nostalgia, but they can also keep you trapped in the past.

What tends to happen is your exchange becomes a chunk of time separate from your Queen’s studies. There are opportunities to share travel experiences on campus, such as exchange information sessions and Queen’s University International Centre (QUIC) events. But for students who may not have time or aren’t aware of these opportunities, their exchange can feel irrelevant and out of place.

Whether you spent first-year at the BISC or attended a summer course in Venice, your time abroad isn’t something that can be squeezed into a Facebook album or catch-up over coffee. It’s hard to talk about something so foreign and alien to friends back home.

My mind was negotiating a lot of conflicting thoughts when I stepped back onto Canadian soil. I wanted to tell people about my travels, but didn’t want to bore them. I wanted to stay in touch with international friends, but not only to reminisce about the past. I wanted to keep up my French skills, but focus on my schoolwork, too.

Talking to like-minded friends helped ease the transition — we could identify with similar feelings of isolation or restlessness. Most importantly, you realize your reverse homesickness isn’t unusual.

A year and a month after returning from France, I’ve already started to forget some details. Yet whenever I remember the highlights, I also remember the times I struggled to speak French with locals or anxiously navigated my way through a foreign airport.

Exchange is undoubtedly an eye-opening experience. The ups and downs are present overseas, and they’re here when you return.

Chloë is the Journal’s Lifestyle Editor. She’s a fourth-year English major.

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