Reentry Tips – Who/How/When to Talk About Your Trip Abroad?

Now that fall 2010 students have returned and are settling back into life at their home universities, we thought this a good time to address some of the issues and concerns of reentry and reverse culture shock.

API Peer Mentor Meghan MacDonald studied in Buenos Aires during the spring 2010 term, and has some great advice on how/who to talk with about your experiences now that you are back.

On the morning of May 2, 2010, my overnight flight from Buenos Aires, Argentina landed at Logan Airport in Boston. Stepping off the plane and onto American “soil” for the first time in what seemed like ages, I felt like a whole new person. Aside from the extra suitcase I had to buy to accommodate a hundred days of shoe shopping, souvenirs and memories into something I could fit into a taxi, my physical appearance wasn’t strikingly different.  My hair was a bit longer, but there was nothing porteña about the yoga pants or the Red Sox t-shirt I was wearing, nor did I appear devastated to finally have full use of my iPhone. The only thing that hinted at the fact I’d just returned from Argentina was the blue, white and yellow flag sewn onto my backpack. What I did have was three months of brand new experiences and stories to share, and I couldn’t wait for the first familiar face to start talking.

Within my first few days back in the States, however, I quickly learned that you can’t fit every detail of a semester abroad into every conversation, and that it can be very frustrating to try and do so. I had walked on a glacier in southern Patagonia, hiked through the rainforest at Iguazú Falls, eaten cow hearts at a Peruvian hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Buenos Aires, and not to mention, I learned a new language. How do you express the glory of that? Being away, you are constantly having new experiences, meeting new people, and forming new ideas.

When you get home, you will, without a doubt, find it very difficult to answer the question “So, how was your trip?” Regardless of how long you stayed in your host country, the experience you had and the impact it had on you will never be summed up into one sentence or defined in one word, and it can be very frustrating when people expect you to do so. Keeping in mind that you can’t tell everyone everything, approach the post-abroad conversation in this way: There are certain people that you absolutely must and will talk to when returning from a semester abroad. Depending on your relationship to them, various people will expect a certain response or a certain amount of detail regarding your experience. The key to keeping yourself from being frustrated and keeping your audience pleasantly engaged is telling people what they want to hear. No, I don’t mean lying, I mean selectively detailing your stories depending on whom you’re talking to.

Section One: Dealing with Parents

They might have cosigned your loan, or if you’re lucky, completely financed your semester abroad. Keeping this in mind, it is your duty as a grateful child to humor their wishes. Despite how many postcards you sent or Skype conversations you had, you will most likely be expected to recount every detail of your trip multiple times, both to them and their friends at dinner parties or backyard barbeques. I can’t count the number of times I interrupted a conversation my mother was holding to correct her pronunciation of Iguazú.
However, and quite fortunately, I have never met a study abroad alumnus who doesn’t thoroughly enjoy reminiscing about their experiences overseas. In this fashion, your parents become your best audience. You won’t be able to get enough of them!

Section Two: Talking with Various Relatives

Whether you have aunts, uncles, or close family-friends, there is bound to be someone who wrote you a check that you seriously need to thank and who wants to know what you were up to for the three to five months you were away. For me, I have a couple of both, and I
tailored my description of my Argentine experience to cater them each specifically. First, we have my thirty-something aunt who has two small children and likes to live vicariously through my experiences. The first questions she asked me about my time in Argentina were regarding how attractive the porteños were, and if I had found a boyfriend. Mind you, this was one week after I arrived in Buenos Aires. She particularly enjoyed hearing about the night my friends and I took a tango lesson, and how our instructor closely resembled Enrique Iglesias. I chose to leave Enrique out of the discussion when telling the story to my grandmother on the other hand, who found the description of me fumbling through the tango steps much more entertaining! On the other side of my family, I have an aunt and uncle that find the idea of me poorly speaking Spanish absolutely hysterical. They jumped at any chance to laugh at stories of me making a fool of myself in a foreign language, and particularly enjoyed hearing that I once mixed up the words avergonzada and embarazada. I’ll let you look up those definitions for yourself.

Section Three: Professors, or Whoever Wrote Your Recommendation

Speaking with professors about your study abroad experience is really great for a number of reasons. First of all, it gives you great practice at describing your travel experiences in a professional manner, something you’ll surely have to do long after you graduate from college. Also, if this professor knows you well or did in fact write you a recommendation, it will give them great pleasure to hear of your successful experience, and make the next letter of recommendation even more appealing! When speaking to my professors, I really like to highlight how much I loved the University of Belgrano, which I attended in Buenos Aires, and to talk about how much my Spanish has improved.

Section Four: Friends

Though most people probably feel comfortable telling their friends anything and everything about their study abroad experience, I have found it necessary to keep certain things in mind when speaking to my own friends. Coming from such a large university, I have many friends who studied abroad in various countries while I was in Argentina, and the conversations I have with them are some of the best. There’s nothing better than exchanging funny stories about screwing up your Spanish and getting lost, or talking about all the amazing people that you met while abroad. However, along with the friends who went abroad come the friends who, for whatever reason, did not. They will be really happy to see you, and surely love to hear your stories, but be careful not to overwhelm them! I’ve personally been told that hearing someone talk over and over again about how amazing the mountains in Patagonia can get a little old, and annoying. It’s understandable to want to tell your friends every detail of what you saw and how amazing it was, but don’t get frustrated if they don’t share your enthusiasm. Remember, they weren’t there!

Overall, not everyone needs to know everything, but everyone is going to want to hear something about your trip abroad. The key to all parties involved being pleased with the outcome of the conversation is figuring out what exactly should be said. If you are able to do that, your transition to life at home will go a lot more smoothly, and you’ll be able to convey, in a number of ways, just how much you enjoyed your semester abroad.

Meghan and API Peer Mentors

Meghan and fellow API alumnus Nicole Brownstein (API Paris spring 2010) both serve as Peer Mentors at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.  Follow them on Facebook here.

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Comments

  1. I am LOVING this post. It’s so true to what it’s like when
    you arrive back in your home country and feel the need to start
    sharing your stories. You don’t realize that some people actually
    get tired of hearing you recount this adventure or that experience
    until they finally say so (learned that one the hard way ;). It’s
    one of the reasons why I think it’s so important to stay connected
    to study abroad resources after you’ve returned from abroad–those
    are the people who you can recount stories to without worrying if
    they get tired of them. Like you mentioned above, talking with
    other friends who studied abroad makes for some of the best
    conversations. Funny, isn’t it, how travel can connect us like
    that? I love it 🙂 By the way, I haven’t yet looked up those words
    you got confused, but judging from your tone, I’m sure the mix up
    was hilarious 🙂

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