Re-entry Diaries

[Re-entry Diaries] How I Learned & Grew from Processing my Re-entry

by Jack Trego

MY TIME ABROAD AND RE-ENTRY

Hi! My name is Jack Trego. I studied abroad in Paris and Strasbourg, France during the 2018-2019 academic year, my Junior year of college. 

Over the course of my time in France, I experienced a profound development in myself. I grew immensely as a person, as a student, and as a young professional. So as my return from abroad date approached, I avoided thinking about re-entry and reverse culture shock and instead focused on taking everything in while I still could. 

Although this strategy worked while I was still there, my failure to think about my re-entry had several consequences on me.

As I returned to my hometown – a suburban area on the outskirts of Philadelphia – I came back to no job, few friends (most had moved away), and little to do.

I was frustrated, angry, nostalgic, and depressed, and felt disconnected from the family and friends who were there. I fell back into myself; with little to do, I spent a lot of time reminiscing about my time in France. I tried to relive my time abroad by poring over the photos and notes I took there. However, this only served to deepen and prolong my negative feelings.

MY ATTEMPTS TO RETURN TO NORMAL

At some point, I realized I had to do something about myself.

An American student standing in Luxemborg Gardens, Paris.
Luxembourg Gardens, Paris

Yet without the tools, framework, and language to do so, I chose another strategy than direct reflection: I chose to fill my time with other things and re-integrate myself as much as possible into my normal routine and life at home.

I tried to act as if something seismic had not occurred within me.

I was distracting myself from critically engaging my own re-entry and my feelings and experience.

I looked for summer jobs, I visited my girlfriend as often as I could, and I restarted a research paper I had written the previous year. These were all normal parts of my routine at home. And yet at the same time, there seemed to be a missing element to them.

My feelings of disconnectedness weren’t going away even as I returned to my normal. I’ve realized now that I was using all these things to pull my attention away from my own re-entry to something else. 

GRADUAL REALIZATION

In the meantime and throughout the summer, I was journaling. I have maintained this habit since long before my time abroad, and, of course, continued it while I was abroad. This tool became essential to me during the summer of my re-entry, for it allowed me to quietly and slowly come to terms with my feelings and experience.

By the end of the summer, I realized that the mental division between the person I was in France and the person I was in the US did not exist.

I had created it because I had mistakenly thought that I had lost that part of myself when I returned, whereas in fact I had gained it: I was a fuller person thanks to my time in France. 

Am American student at the top of the Eiffel tower in Paris, France.
Eiffel Tower, Paris

By the end of the summer, I came to another realization. The difficult period immediately following my re-entry was necessary: although I didn’t know how to at the time, directly confronting and feeling my emotions was vital.

Re-integrating myself into my normal life at home, dancing somewhat around these feelings, and slowly reflecting on them through journaling are all parts of how I processed re-entry.

I needed them all: for if I didn’t have the negative feelings, I would not have realized how much of a change had occurred in me; and if I didn’t reflect on those feelings, I would not have come out of this process a better version of myself.

The combination of re-integration and journaling allowed me the time and the space to confront my re-entry. And by the end of the summer, I also built the confidence and assurance I needed to later confront my re-entry shock a second time when I went back to my home college. 

My experience with re-entry and reverse culture shock sheds light on how a good life is lived. It should not be thought of as an either-or, a good or bad, a positive or negative. Rather, we are engaging with ourselves in a process of action and reflection in the pursuit of something greater. 

About Author

Jack is a recent graduate from Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania, with a B.A. in French and Francophone Studies and two minors in Philosophy and International Studies. During his Junior year, he was in Paris and Strasbourg, France, where he took classes in French, completed a full-time internship, and conducted an independent research project. Taking his studies and his experiences together, he is aspiring to either enter the international education field or the transatlantic field as he begins his career. In his free time, he is a voracious reader and always learning new topics to research and read about.