Saying Goodbye to Your Study Abroad Trip
Before you know it, it will be the end of your study abroad program. The conclusion to what was hopefully one of the best experiences of your life. It’s probably going to be bittersweet. I’m sure you’re going to be ready to head home and see your family and friends. Being away from friends, family, and America in general can really take its toll. At the same time, you’re probably sad that you’re going to be leaving a place you’ve explored and made your home. I can almost guarantee if you did it right, it really should feel like a second home.
Make peace with the situation. Make sure you do everything in your power that last week to accomplish anything you didn’t have a chance to do at that point. If you leave with no regrets, then no matter how sad you are, you will be able to leave knowing the experience you had, the things you learned, and the friends you made, will have changed your life forever.
Take time so see any sites you missed over the course of your stay. Where I lived in Scotland, remnants of a castle and a cathedral from the 1300’s were pretty much the defining landmarks of the town. I walked past them every day for an entire year, and it wasn’t until my last week that I actually paid to go explore them. It was totally worth it. It’s never too late, and if you don’t take the time to fully appreciate where you’ve lived for the past semester or year – the culture, the landscape, the food, the people – even at the last minute, then you’re going to go home with a lot of “I wish I had done…”.
Say goodbye to everyone you met, but take extra time to talk to the people who helped make your experience what it was. I’m not just talking about friends. I mean teachers, the cafeteria lady, or even your favorite server at a restaurant. Let them know how much they mean to you.
As far as the friends you made while studying abroad, make sure you have ways of maintaining communication, even if it’s just through Facebook. You never know when you will see them again, but having the ability to call on them if you’re nearby visiting, or even just to reminisce, is invaluable. They are the people who went with you through your ups and downs, the good and the bad, the happy and the sad. Unlike people back home, they will be able to understand exactly what you went through, and are the ones you will most likely be able to relate with in the future. Maintain those friendships.
Go buy some stuff. Seriously. I personally hate shopping, but take a couple hours and go buy whatever you’ve been staring at for the whole semester or year. I know I said buying trinkets isn’t always the best way to spend your money, but you will likely want a few odds and ends for yourself or to give to your friends and family at home. You will probably never have the opportunity to buy that handwoven dress or that custom pint glass again. For me, it was a golf towel and a few other odds and ends from the Old Course at St. Andrews.
Don’t worry about how much money you spend at this point. It may seem like a lot at the time, but when you come home and you start making some money at your summer job, what you spent that last week will seem like pocket change. Other than the photos you’ve taken or the journal you’ve written, these few things invoke some of your better memories. Just be sure you can fit it all in your suitcase on the way home.
Speaking of home, don’t be surprised if there’s a reverse culture shock when you get back. You’ve just lived a completely different life for a period of several months. It may take some time to adjust. This is where coming home with no regrets helps. As much as you may want to be back abroad, understand that for the time being, that’s just not possible. So enjoy being home!
For some advice on reverse culture shock and re-entry after studying abroad, check out my post “Why No One Likes The Friend That Studied Abroad” on The Study Abroad Blog.
Be aware that not everyone will be happy that you went abroad. Not that they are upset with you, but they may not want to hear about your experiences because either they’re not interested, are apparently not that good of friends, or because they’re jealous you had an experience they never will. Ignore those people and associate with the ones that want to hear about your time away and help you get acclimated back home. And don't forget to ask about what they've been doing themselves!
Lastly, when you have time, think back on your entire study abroad experience. The people you met, the places you traveled, the things you did… don’t be afraid to reminisce. Appreciate the fact that you did something very few students get to do, and treasure that experience and the new qualities you possess because of it.