The study abroad experience is more than wonderful, the vast majority of the time. Sometimes, though, being so far away from family, friends, and the familiar is hard. Being in Chile for the past eight months has meant that I could not be home for friends’ birthdays, family get-togethers, holidays, my little brother’s prom, the engagement and subsequent engagement party of one of my best friends, my older brother’s college graduation, and- the most difficult and emotional of all- when my little brother had to have major surgery. Facebook, Skype, and email have helped me stay connected (and caused a bit of an unfortunate Facebook addiction), but they have also made me aware of how out of the loop I have gotten during my time away.
This realization became clear to me when I went home to Ohio for two and a half weeks in July: life goes on even when you aren’t there. While I was off having a life-changing semester in South America, my friends and family were also changing and doing new things with their lives back home. My group of best friends had created new memories and inside jokes over the course of those 4 months that I wasn’t a part of, and similar with my family. Now, it’s not like I expected them all to merely sit around moping, missing me, and building a “Kirsten shrine” or anything, but I guess I just never really thought about how I would be missing out on events back home while aprovechando de all the opportunities that Chile was offering… and it hit me a little hard to realize it. I suppose you could say that was my taste of “Re-Integration Culture Shock”—and I suppose I could add that I’m glad I was able to delay it for another semester.
What is the take-away from this, then? I would propose this idea: realize that studying abroad is a great experience that comes with lots of change. You are very likely to change in thoughts, opinions, interests, treatment of others, personal taste, and maybe even appearance (like me, for example- I left a brunette and am now a blonde!). Your worldview is bound to change if you open yourself to the abroad experience, and will return home fundamentally different. However, changes also occur back home; relationships will evolve (some become stronger, while others fade away), and your friends themselves will change. A semester is a pretty significant amount of time, after all! My advice is to realize this, accept this, and act accordingly. It is important to keep in touch with your loved ones back home, but it is also important to really be where you are during your time abroad, physically and emotionally, in order to make the most of the experience. Although life may not be the same when you return, the people will still be there, and both parties can share what new changes have taken place.