...you think about all the new things you experienced abroad and all the crazy things you have been through with fellow international students. You remember the moments when you felt like a unique cosmopolitan living in a foreign country. You felt that you started to become part of the local or international student community, that you belonged somewhere even when you were so far away from home. You had a period of carefree life abroad, combined with the pressure of the initial culture shock and occasionally tiresome academic obligations.
You stepped out of your comfort zone and discovered new territories. You lived in an intercultural and supportive environment that made you imaginative and everything seemed possible during your semester abroad. You tried new foods, hobbies, got new friends, found intimacy, passion and love - very touching, isn't it?
You steered your life into a new direction or you partied more than ever before. You found your own voice. You enjoyed spending time alone and with friends, you loved and hated yourself, you lost control just to find balance again.
You saw people for what they are, without the mask. You learnt who were culturally different and who were just using you. You taught and have been taught. You had some memorable conversations about life and cultural differences. You grew up, even if you had grown up many times before.
Now here you are, moving on with your life: doing an internship, working, studying, building your business. Sometimes you try to trace back the changes in your life. You try to explain the nature of the changes triggered by your study abroad experience. We gathered some of the most critical aspects of life that most international students see in a different light after studying abroad.
It could be hard to imagine at first, but practice shows that even a semester abroad can have a great impact on your personality. Studying abroad transforms your identity so abruptly that you do not even have time to realize the direction and depth of the changes in your personality. During their studies overseas people often feel that they act in a strange way, like they were not in control.
Some international students keep asking themselves after their study abroad program: was this really me doing everything?
In this section we explain the most typical feelings during and after studying abroad. You can dig pretty deep in your soul during your study abroad experience: it is a great chance to get to know the real you. Now let's summarize the most common changes that go down in the vast majority of international students.
You experience a glowing cultural enthusiasm
On your study abroad program you made countless interesting friends from different cultures. You wanted to meet and learn from different people and cultures and you seized every opportunity to do so. Now your ears are sending a red alert when you hear someone speaking a foreign language (or your native tongue with an accent). You automatically want to engage in a conversation with them, because you want to hear their story. You became curious about foreign people and somewhere deep you hope that in the middle of the dialogue it turns out that they were or are exchange students too.
Take the initiative and engage in a conversation with anyone on the streets. Foreigners in your country always appreciate local help and you can continue making international friends.
No more stereotypes
While studying overseas you conquered many stereotypes related to your host country and other nations. Maybe you saw some of them reinforced. Maybe you realized that all prejudices were true to your own culture. Anyhow, you understood that society consists of a wide range of individuals, and a group of people, who behave in a certain way, do not necessarily represent society as a whole. You became more sensitive to different cultural wavelengths and learnt not to judge people based on their cultural backgrounds.
Everyone deserves a first chance. You can and should be cautious and ready for anything in life, but judge people based on what they do with you right now, not based on what you heard or reckon to know about their past.
The world news got more personal
You made international friends from the most (previously) hidden corners of the world. News related to the foreign countries you learnt about (especially your host country) wake up a nostalgic feeling, suddenly you remember how it felt to immerse in foreign cultures. Good news and bad news for your friends abroad are moments of celebration and sadness for you as well.
Catch up with your international friends upon hearing these news, show your genuine support or joy and your relationship will grow stronger.
You see historical scars from different angles
You learnt history one way in your home country, but you may have encountered with people who had other kind of history lessons. A series of discussions with international students on red-hot historical topics may have introduced you a myriad of seemingly unconventional ideas. Seeing the scars that past events left on your international friends you feel empathy. Possibly in the past centuries you went to war together or you were fierce enemies – but today you are friends and that is what matters.
You can improve your cultural sensitivity by understanding the connections between past and present events. Never ever blame someone for what their great-grand parents did. Learn about the past, but focus on the present.
The world is small
Studying abroad meant that you were buying tickets as frequently as you were getting candy out of a Pez dispenser as a kid. During your study abroad program you had the chance to travel North and South till the end of the road. Your trips abroad have demonstrated how small the world is. Since you finished your semester abroad, you may have had a layover in Europe and you bumped into your international friends from your last exchange semester. Or you booked your flight to visit your best friend in New York or London. Or even better, you organized a reunion with your exchange student group from your international studies in Paris. When you refer to your international friends, you feel like you could omit the 'international' part, because the geographic distance is not a barrier anymore.
Call ahead when you are visiting a country where you know someone – they will be happy to help you in any way they can. At the same time be ready to help them too if you can.
Past problems and annoyances are ridiculous
Before studying abroad you got irritated very easily. You created your own problems and you were whining about the way life was treating you. During your study abroad program you encountered with some real problems and you dealt with them. You made some international friends whose problems were obviously million times more serious than yours have ever been. Having an increased stimulus threshold, now you understand that most of your past problems were peanuts.
Apply your newly acquired approaches in solving real problems. Process your past and face the real problems with courage. That is how you build character.
You care less about what people think about you
Throughout your international studies you learnt the hard way who your friends are and who were trying to use you. You value the opinion of the few real friends you got and you do not bother with people whose sole intent is to insult you. You are immune to the stupid misconceptions and rumors about your travelings and international life and you stopped interfering with others' life. Your study abroad experience provided you with invaluable insights about human relationships so you don't waste your time anymore on people who don't deserve it.
A new level of self-discovery
During your study abroad experience you had the chance to apply what you learnt from books, you tested some of your soft skills in an intercultural setting. Moreover, you took the time for some self-reflection that served as a catalyst to a potentially better you. You have been revising your thoughts and acts more than ever before in your life. You discovered and incorporated new features into your personality, but you are not yet entirely sure whether studying abroad changed you for the better. You feel more ready to ask the right questions about yourself and you look for the answers. You put to the test whether you live by your own values and rules. You think about whether you are using your talents and cross-cultural skills appropriately. You constantly weigh your future opportunities.
You might have found some of the answers while studying abroad. Good. Go ahead and answer the rest of these questions one by one to make your study abroad experience more beneficial.
You want to push your limits
You studied abroad for a semester or an academic year and now you understand how quickly you improved under pressure. While studying abroad you acquired cross-cultural life skills that opened the doors to the desire to gain even more experience. You want to discover more, you are curious how much more you can take personally, academically or professionally. With every single day you are a step closer to turn your vision into reality. It is a cliche that you are the only person in the way of your own success, but you see that truth in this saying and you truly want to live up to your potential.
You may envision yourself as a world traveler, a successful cross-cultural adviser in Japan, China or India, an entrepreneur in New york, London or Sydney, a top engineer in Germany or a volunteer nurse in Africa or South-America.
It is your choice.
You want to be in touch with reality
You can instantly access an infinite amount of information on the web. Great. But traveling during your study abroad program gave you a very powerful experience: you were able to personally explore the wonders in the world. All the monuments, churches, castles, cultures, seas, mountains and secret paths you saw in documentaries came to life. You could feel them with all five senses. You touched the ruins of the Acropolis in Greece, you completed the Milford track in New-Zealand, you took the evergreen pose in Pisa and you held the Eiffel-tower and the Great Pyramids in your hands. You simply cannot go back to sit in front of the screen, because you realized the importance of feeling reality on your skin. Same goes for people, you were detached from social media and met people face to face, you looked them in the eye and you know you had real interactions.
Focus on keeping it real. Literally real. Social media is great to keep in touch with distant friends from Africa, America, Asia, Australia and Europe. At least use video calls, but whenever you can, meet up with your friends personally.
Shake off the destructive offenses, but recognize and accept constructive criticism. Meet new people and contact past international friends to see if you got something in common. Build your relationships on genuine and mutual interest.
You look at social media differently
Before you studied abroad you might have envied how your friends were posting pictures from their trips non-stop on Facebook and Instagram. Now that you did the same amount of traveling and posting (if not more), you developed a new attitude towards seeing others traveling. You feel the weight of their backpack and you remember the nostalgic moments of your best study abroad trips. You don't just go through liking all the pictures with a bored face, you rather scrutinize their posts and read the descriptions to get some tips for your next international adventure.
When you see something amazing posted by a fellow international student friend or anyone in your social network, ask them in private about why and how did they organize it. They will be more than happy to share their experiences and give you a head start by recommending the must see places (patiently wait for their answers, they might have scarce connection on the way).
You want to share all your experience with others
You studied abroad for one semester or an academic year, some of you even earned a full-degree abroad. That means loads of life experience that constantly wants to spill over. When they ask questions you never hesitate to go ahead like 'when I studied abroad…'. The topic of the conversation could be animal husbandry, you will talk for ten minutes about the sheep herd you walked by in Australia. It is all right, the number of international student stories will be more balanced out by other stories as you go on with your life.
You don't know why people don't get it
Even though you did not share a native tongue, sometimes it was easier to understand your foreign classmates and the doorman at your host university than fellow natives at home. For some inexplicable, almost magical reason, you instantly knew from half words and sign language what did most fellow international students mean. All the deep conversations, the great ideas you had together when studying overseas, it was borderline miraculous. But back home your native language and all the gestures fail, people sometimes just don't get you. You get suspicious about forgetting your own language and you consider that people deliberately misunderstand you. Deep inside you know that your friends and loved ones are not doing that on purpose. but you have been through a very intense experience while studying abroad and it is hard to translate all those feelings and memories to words. This is a common symptom of reverse culture shock.
Slow down a bit. Give them space, answer questions one by one, and introduce the new you. Keep calm and explain. Repeat if needed or change topic, you don't have to explain all the bits at once, they will understand it with time. At home you have to practice the tolerance you showed to the local cashier in your favorite grocery store abroad.
You are crazy for traveling
Studying abroad often gives birth to the longing for endless traveling. Buying bus, train and flight tickets is highly addictive. Before your study abroad experience you were fine sitting at home or commuting to your university or workplace. Now you cannot wait to embark on your next trip abroad, visit your international friends or welcome them in your home country.
Upon returning home, reality hit you hard: no time and no budget for traveling. So what? Instead of buying the latest gadgets, accessories or clothes, save some money for your next trip! If you got a job already, probably you have more money, but less time. Forget the 'I don't have time for that' excuse. Make a little time for some shorter getaways.
You appreciate the moment
Before your international student life you needed a car, train or taxi or whatever took you faster from point A to B. When you were studying abroad, you allocated a certain amount of time for fun and passion. You walked everywhere, you took the time to passionately enjoy the small wonders in life, you literally stumbled upon happy days. You may think that after studying abroad you have less time to be happy and passionate about life and it seems like you partially or entirely lost your international student life.
Find something that awakens the passion in you once again. Bring back your international student life by getting off the bus one station earlier on the way to work. Head out for a walk in the neighborhood. Look up in the blue sky or watch a sunset. Enjoy the candy floss clouds when flying. Those moments in life did not just find you, but you were looking for them, you actively created them.
You are thinking global
You had some great plans before you study abroad. Then you imagined them in the global arena and threw out some of them, while improved the ideas you kept. Your academic or professional career path and your business idea all make more sense in an international environment. You are looking for international internships and entry-level jobs, you want to join young international teams or activities related to international students. You became more ambitious and mobilized all your energy and life skills gained abroad. Using your native tongue only or staying in your home country feels like pulling the emergency break.
Use your international experience for your advantage. Build a life plan where your cultural awareness and international competence will not sink into oblivion.
You think about your roots
While being an international student in a foreign country, you met dozens of people with different cultural background. You were often asked to introduce your home culture and you asked back to learn about the cultures of your friends. Studying abroad together with your new friends made you aware of your roots or shed light to things you didn't know about your own culture. You find it more interesting or even necessary to look up historical events, classic literature and other culture specific elements in your home country.
Spend some time with learning about your culture, after all this is how you maintain cultural diversity. You represent your culture, so bring something to the table from your home country, something that adds value to other cultures as well.
You learnt to appreciate your family
You might have experienced physical, mental, emotional or financial low points while studying abroad, but your family was always there for you. In your host country you met so many people with different cultural backgrounds that from time to time you enjoyed seeing familiar faces from home. Even if you had the happiest study abroad experience, you felt that often invisible support. Someone far away from you genuinely cared about you.
Show gratitude to your family accordingly. Your parents are not getting any younger, don't ever forget their support. Call your friends who called or wrote to you when you were abroad, revive your relationships in your home country.
You might have lived in the dorms in your home country, worked, lived separately from your family – in this case you had a bit of an advantage here. Anyhow, by the end of your study abroad program you gained an 'extreme money management degree'. Saving money, traveling, enjoying life and buying food at the same time? Done. Even if you spent your parents money, you felt a bit guilty to ask for your monthly allowance – two weeks earlier. You understand that budgeting is a very important life skill, and you were able to allocate your money in a way that you maximized your study abroad experience. You also learnt that you can have fun for free - some of your best experiences abroad were amazingly cheap or absolutely free, literally 'priceless'.
Probably you are working or soon you will work and that means a bit of money surplus. Apply the money management skills you earned on your semester abroad and don't think that you need to spend more, just because you have more. Be smart and spend smart. Buy what you really need or what creates memorable life experiences (for some people shopping falls into these categories).
Share your international experience, but every once in a while give your friends a break. Find forums and ways to share your cross-cultural experience and knowledge: write a blog, join a community. Put your international competence to good use or volunteer to help international students in your area.
You studied abroad in a culturally diverse environment but at one point the cultural differences became similarities. In some cases you got to the cultural root of the superficial differences. Your peer international students were curious, shy, wanted to succeed, learn languages, travel, immerse in cultures and build relationships with fellow foreign students – just like you did. You had the same basic needs, you just fulfilled your goals in a different way, regardless your cultural background. You are ready to apply the cultural competences you acquired abroad. You see the similarities in people, not just the differences.
Find the common tongue in any negotiation by seeking what others really want. It is what you would want if you were in their shoes. The agreement is guaranteed if you are able to see things from a shared perspective.