Earlier this week I returned home from a 14-day trip to Wisconsin, a place I not too long ago lived and where I studied years before. Not only am I physically exhausted from the go go go of trying to see everyone, do everything, and be everywhere, but I am, much to my surprise, mentally exhausted. I had not anticipated that a nice reunion tour would, upon returning home, leave me with so much running through my brain, let alone have many of the same questions or thoughts I had when returning from studying abroad.
My reactions have run the gamut from playing the comparison game (“man, I hate the fact that the gas pumps in New York don’t lock. I wish they were more like Wisconsin’s”) to feeling more engaged with my surroundings, and more energized while away to feeling lost once back at home. Like returning from abroad, I am once again at a juncture: do I resume business as usual, do I go away again, or do I figure out how to incorporate the life I had elsewhere into the life I have at home to create a new way of going forward?
I recently read an article Cate Brubaker of SmallPlanetStudio.com wrote for Meet, Plan, Go!– a website for those interested in taking a career break to travel. ‘How to Make Processing Part of the Re-Entry Process’ discusses some of the issues people may face once they return from career breaks. (What she talks about applies to students returning from abroad, too.) Brubaker states that the reason people have a tough time readjusting to being home is not a lack of newness at home, but the fact that the travelers have changed and are themselves new.
Brubaker suggests that taking the time to sift through and process the emotions, thoughts, and questions that arise during this re-entry period will only be of benefit in deciding how to proceed with their lives. “Meeting this challenge head-on,” she writes, “is one of the best gifts you can give yourself because no matter what you decide to do in the future, you’ll bring your true self.”
When I returned from spending a semester in the Netherlands, I needed someone to tell me that what I was experiencing was typical and to guide me through such a process as Brubaker recommends. Instead, I sort of floundered around until I found a couple of activities that aided in my re-entry by combining my life abroad with my life in the US.
In an effort to avoid floundering this time, I plan on taking Brubaker’s advice, process what I’m feeling now and ask myself “which aspects of my travels made me feel the most alive, engaged, and empowered.” I am hoping that my answers to these questions will help me to manage the transition between the old me and the to-be-processed new me.
Perhaps I’ll pick up new hobbies or take a cooking class or start/join a community group. Perhaps it will be little changes in habits that are required for me to feel the balance of old and new. Perhaps I’ll decide to travel again. Whatever the outcome, I know I’ll have at least taken the time to find my way to it and know that it is right for me…until the next trip.