A few weeks ago was my birthday. Things were going wonderfully, and then I received this text from my friend:
“Happy birthday, my dearest! And to think we left Beijing one year ago today.”
I read it and was dumbstruck. I clearly remembered my birthday one year ago, when my friends and I caught a cab to the Beijing Capital International Airport. It was early, barely 6:30 am. I was ready to return to the U.S., but I also wanted more time in this historical yet modern city. Although I wasn’t flying directly home (there was a detour to Hong Kong), it was the day I left my school, program, and friends from abroad.
Only now, one year later, am I beginning to see how my study abroad affected me when I returned to the States. Initially, all I could comprehend were the immediate things—how clean Colorado’s air is, how much more natural it was to use chopsticks and how clunky silverware seemed. My first quarter back at DU was overwhelming; academics, work, and relationships were different than I expected. As weird as it may sound, I yearned to study Chinese all day and eat sumptuous Beijing cuisine. Yet I had to focus on my final year of undergrad in Denver. It was intense. Things that seemed trivial to me were actually part of a large readjustment process I didn’t realize was happening.
For example…when I initially started drinking coffee again it was like drinking an energy drink. Even coffee overwhelmed me! I mediated this by ordering a tea tumbler off Amazon so I could drink the loose-leaf tea I had brought back from China. Coffee gets me too caffeinated; I prefer to drink it slowly with friends now.
Also, there were many times post-China I felt silly or disjointed while speaking. I’d pause or not be able to describe something as prolifically as I wanted to—the Chinese word was more immediate to me than the English word. There were three distinct times when I forgot “student” in English. There are countless times when my tongue has been tied.
Ultimately, two things have helped me readjust post-study abroad: 1) getting a routine and 2) working on communication.
This quarter has been my most stable quarter since being back. My routine is also the most stable now since being back, and I love it. A stable routine is one of the most grounding things I have experienced post-study abroad. Also, communication may seem simple, but after returning from another culture, changes in communication styles is undoubtedly one of the most important things to pay attention to.
Not everything ends just because you and your friends are getting on different flights with different destinations, but change is inevitable. Perhaps you won’t notice the change right away. Still, I recommend focusing on communication and establishing a routine—especially if you are gone for a longer amount of time.
Michelle Yeager, Peer Advisor