Now that classes and homework have become part of my daily routine again, I thought it is about time to do an update on my post-study abroad life.
For me, this past week has been a roller coaster of emotions, partly due to my busy schedule, the need to be on top of everything, and the struggle of planning my summer and senior year. Since it has been one month since I arrived back in the United States, I want to shed light on the process of re-adjusting back to Macalester and the concept of reverse culture shock. Through this blog post, I hope to dissect the mixed emotions that I feel as a study away returnee and to help others understand the transition back to “normal life.”
Before leaving Korea
Even before the end of my semester abroad, I was mentally preparing myself for the end of my time in Korea. I don’t think it’s possible to avoid reverse culture shock and readjustment entirely, but I do believe that steps could be taken to ensure the transition back to regular student life is as smooth as possible. Like any other semester or end of the school year, I handwrote thank you cards for my professors and cards for each of the friends that I made at Ewha. It gave me an outlet to express my thoughts for each relationship that I made and closure for each chapter of my life. Handing out cards doesn’t signify the end of my friendships but merely the end of our time together (physically) at this stage.
Likewise, I mentally prepared myself for one semester abroad in Korea, so I was also mentally ready to go back to the US by the end of the semester. Don’t get me wrong- I LOVED my time in Korea and loved the people that I met, but I was also ready to be back in a familiar environment. I missed the smallness of Macalester and the ability dropping in my professors’ office hours and talking about everything from my plans for an honors thesis to race relations in the US. And I missed being in community with everyone that I know. But as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. And with that, I left Korea with happy memories and the excitement of finishing my junior year at Macalester.
Being back in the country
Even before leaving the Minneapolis-St.Paul airport, I felt at ease. A friend (Mac alum ’17) and I managed to catch each other at the gates before she left for Berkeley. Although both of us were still severely sick, it felt really nice to see familiar faces again. Similarly, another friend of mine (a Mac sophomore) picked me up from the airport and helped me with the luggage. Small interactions and gestures like these really made me feel welcomed and glad to be back.
Arriving on campus a week before classes began was a good choice. I not only get seven days to get a head start on fighting jet lag (15 hours!), I can also re-familiarize myself with the college before other students come back from winter break. During this period of time, I went back to work at the Science Museum and unpacked my belongings in my new dorm room. I made time to catch up with friends who I haven’t seen since May of last year and spent time chatting about life updates.
The first two to three weeks of being back on campus was great. I finally met with everyone that I wanted to talk to, and I finally settled into a schedule again. Of course, being back on campus as a junior felt different. Some of my friends are studying abroad this semester (like Jennifer) and there are 500+ first-years that I haven’t met. I’m living in a house with six other people, and I have my own room.
One thing that I am being extremely conscious of is spending time with others. Now that upperclassmen are not required to live on-campus or be on a meal plan, getting together with others have to be an intentional act. As an extroverted introvert, I can go for several days without socializing with others (my thoughts are already loud enough sometimes). Despite that, I also have to realize that being in the presence of others is good for my mental health as well, especially when I tend to bottle up my emotions internally. Therefore, I have been making an extra effort to attend events organized by the Department of Multicultural Life regularly (see above), eat meals with friends, and talk to my professors. Going to these events is a nice reminder that I have people who care about me and people who I care about as well.
Validating my experience abroad
Personally, having some souvenirs from abroad that I see each day also helps with validating my experience in a different country without being overly annoying(?) to other people. They serve as little reminders of the happy memories that I made. Below, I bought a Hong Kong souvenir mug from Starbucks (I’ve been meaning to buy this for years!) that I can use on a daily basis to remind me of my family and the joyful moments we had together. In a similar vein, I finally conceded to the Mac norm and decorated my hard laptop case with stickers, including stickers from Ewha, the Youtuber meetup in Tokyo, my favorite LINE characters, and Macalester (#hiremac). For me, seeing little things like this every day not only reminds me of my study abroad experience, it also serves as a part of my identity. I wouldn’t go so far to say that my semester in Seoul was life-changing, but it has definitely shaped my views on the world and myself.
I’m hoping that with little changes here and there, my adjustment back to Macalester will just be more difficult on the academic side and that I will feel comfortable and at home again on campus again.