It’s Re-Entry Reality Monday! Each week leading up to our Re-Entry Reality event on March 12 (tomorrow!), I’ll post a re-entry podcast or blog interview. The goal of these interviews is to share a range of re-entry experiences.
Would you like to share your Re-Entry Reality? Contact me – I’d love to talk with you.
Jessica Plaunt is a mechanical designer for a winch and crane company, but her true passions are traveling, salsa dancing, and Spanish speaking. She now lives in Winona, MN with her two dogs, Barney and Pepe.
Jessica, where did you go abroad and what did you do there?
I had the chance to go to Spain twice for extended amounts of time. I was in Valladolid, Spain both times. The first was in 2004 for about 6 months through my study abroad program. I went to school, took advantage of the Rebajas (lovely clearance sales!), took advantage of the many cultural excursions with friends, and got connected with a salsa dance class. The salsa class really got me involved in different events in the city and gave me an opportunity to make good friends from Spain. The second time I was back in 2007 working for a professor I met from the salsa class to do my senior project for college. It was really neat to have the experience as a student and then as a professional!
When did the idea of re-entry get on your radar?
When I studied abroad we had a short class to prepare us to go. They mentioned that for some people it’s harder to come back than it is to go over. I was thinking about it before I left but didn’t understand why it would be an issue. I thought, certainly to come back to a place I had known for years vs. months couldn’t be that hard!
What was your re-entry experience like?
It sucked, to say the least. I did not want to return in the slightest, but felt obligated to finish my schooling. What surprised me was how weird it felt to be surrounded by people speaking English instead of Spanish or any other foreign language. I also specifically remember on the ride home feeling lost in the highway because it felt ridiculously huge to me!
The fact that I didn’t want to come home and couldn’t stop talking about Spain or on the phone with friends from Spain was deeply offensive to my family. While abroad, I had the chance to separate who I was from what beliefs I had in me that were from them, so we basically had to get to know each other all over again. They also were surprised to have to correct my English grammar since I was using Spanish grammar but English words and didn’t even realize it! Eventually I was flat out banned from talking about Spain and had to find other people (most likely other people that had been abroad) to share my experiences.
It was much more difficult than I expected. It didn’t really “solve” itself for a number of years until after I came back the second time (and this was in 2012–8 years after I went abroad for the first time). When I was a student I said I came back because of school, when I was working, I said I came back because of a boyfriend. One of my friends in Spain had to say simply that if I wanted to stay I would find a way to. When things didn’t work out with that guy, I had really no obligation to keep me in the States. I thought about the things I liked about being in Spain, and found I could find similar things within 1-2 hour drive from where I live now. I also went on a really fabulous trip that showed me that there are maybe places I can visit that I might like better than Spain. That thought had never really occurred to me until I was there!
Only really after I could say, that yes, I wanted to stay in the Midwest because I like grass (I have a nice yard for my dogs!), my car (freedom of movement that wasn’t going to take half of my salary), and being around my family, was I able to make peace with that I wasn’t in Spain.
What do you know *now* about re-entry that you wish you’d known earlier?
I wish I would have realized that there would be more adventures. When I got back from studying abroad, I didn’t fathom any possible way to travel like that again. Therefore, I thought the best part of my life was over. It sounds dramatic now, but I seriously thought that was the case and mourned it for a good number of months. After time, I had the opportunity to visit several new places, and now would prefer to visit a new place instead of return to Spain, unless it’s to visit my friends there. I couldn’t even imagine these other adventures I’ve had since then! Several of the places I’ve been since then I didn’t know existed, or wouldn’t have expected myself to go there – like Aruba, Egypt, or Kauai, HI. Now I can’t stop talking about Kauai! Alooooooha!
What tips do you have for others who are about to go through re-entry?
Focus on what you enjoyed/what you did or appreciated it there. If it was the food, try to find stores that will have some of the foods or try your best to re-create the recipes. For me, I had to find a salsa dance class that felt like a family. I found when I could do the same kinds of things here that I found there I was much happier to be here. Sounds simple, but it made a huge difference for me.
Find other people that have been abroad and are going through similar things, or are familiar with what your experiences. Not everyone that goes abroad has the same experience when they come back, and it’s helpful just to have a good listener to share your stories/thoughts.
Not immediately helpful – but with time it will get better, or you will find a way to get back (or somewhere else)!
And just for fun…if re-entry were a food, what would it be?
Re-entry would be a coconut… hard to get through but sweet and juicy once you finally do!
Click here to participate in our free Re-Entry Reality virtual event tomorrow (March 12)!