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.
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.
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.
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.