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Challenges you may face in transitioning home

After all the newness and stimulation of your time abroad, a return to family, friends, old routines (however nice and comforting) can seem very dull. It is natural to miss the excitement and challenges which characterise study in a foreign nation, but it is up to you to find ways to overcome such negative reactions. Remember – a bored person is also boring.

One thing you can count on upon your return: no one will be as interested in hearing about your adventures and triumphs as you will be in sharing those experiences. This is not a rejection of you or your achievements, but simply the fact that once they have heard the highlights, any further interest on your audiences’ part is probably unlikely. Be realistic in your expectations of how fascinating your journey is going to be for everyone else. Be brief.

Even when given a chance to explain all the sights you saw and feelings you had while studying abroad, it is likely to be at least a bit frustrating to relay them coherently. It is very difficult to convey this kind of experience to people who don’t have similar frames of reference or travel backgrounds, no matter how sympathetic they are as listeners. You can tell people about your time away, but you may fail to make them understand exactly how or why you felt a particular way. It’s okay. Just remember, they cannot see what you see behind your eyes or live in your mind.

Just as you probably missed home for a time after arriving overseas, it is just as natural to experience some reverse homesickness for the people, places, and things that you grew accustomed to as a student in New Zealand. To an extent, emails, Skype, WeChat, WhatsApp, and other social media to keep in contact with people you were close to in New Zealand can reduce that homesickness. But feelings of loss are an integral part of international sojourners and must be anticipated and accepted as a natural result of overseas study. It’s okay to grieve when you leave.

It is inevitable that when you return you will notice that some relationships with friends and family will have changed. Just as you have altered some of your ideas and attitudes when overseas, the people at home have also experienced some changes. These changes may be positive or negative, but expecting that no change will have occurred is unrealistic. The best preparation is flexibility, openness, minimal preconceptions, and tempered optimism.

Sometimes people may concentrate on small alterations in your behaviour or ideas and seem threatened or upset by them. Others may blame any “bad” traits to the influence of your time overseas. These incidents may be motivated by jealousy, fear, or feelings of superiority or inferiority. To avoid or minimise them it is necessary to monitor yourself and be aware of the reactions of those around you, especially in the first few weeks following your return. This phase normally passes quickly if you do nothing to confirm their stereotypes.

A few people will misinterpret your words or actions in such a way that communication becomes difficult. For example, what you may have come to think of as witty humour (particularly sarcasm, banter, etc) and a way to show affection or establish conversation may be considered aggression or showing off. Conversely, silence that was seen as simply polite overseas might be misinterpreted at home. New clothing styles or mannerisms may be viewed as inappropriate.

Continually using references about New Zealand, or talk using expressions or words you became accustomed to in New Zealand is often considered rude or showing off. Be aware of how you may look to others and how your behaviour is likely to be interpreted.

Sometimes the reality of being back "home" is not as natural or enjoyable as the place you had constructed as your mental image. When actual daily life is less enjoyable or more demanding than you remembered, it is natural to feel some alienation. Many returnees develop “critical eyes”, a tendency to see faults in the society you never noticed before your time overseas.

It is natural to develop new world views whether you study at home or abroad, but when forming new opinions overseas happens, it is difficult not to compare one culture to another. Mental comparisons are fine, but keep them to yourself until you regain both your cultural balance and perspectives. Be quick to listen, slow to speak and even slower to judge.

Many returnees are frustrated by the lack of opportunity to apply newly gained social, linguistic, and practical coping skills that appear to be unnecessary or irrelevant at home. To avoid ongoing annoyance: adjust to reality as necessary, change what is possible, be creative, be patient, and above all else use all the cross cultural adjustment skills you acquired overseas to assist in your own re-entry. Listen to what is important others, put their needs first and you can’t go wrong.

Being home, coupled with the pressures of career, education, family and friends often combine to make returnees worried that they might “lose” the experience. Many fear that it will somehow become compartmentalised like souvenirs or photo albums kept in a box and only occasionally taken out and looked at. You do not have to let that happen. Maintain your contacts abroad, seek out and talk to people who have had experiences similar to yours; practise your cross cultural skills; continue language learning. Remember and honour both your hard work and the fun you had while in New Zealand.

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