Returning Home from Teaching Abroad: How I Coped with Re-Entry Anxiety
Going abroad on a holiday or to study/teach abroad is like having an affair with your day-to-day routine. Traveling brings you excitement and fear, is an invitation to do new things, and breaks habits and rituals. For some, it is a constant adrenaline rush and brings freedom from schedules and daily mundane tasks. However, what happens when the affair ends? Your time abroad is over and you must return home to commitments and routines.
After my first time abroad, I did not feel as though I had any re-entry issues. I returned home in the summer and caught up with family and friends and began again with my routine. It wasn’t until six months later, after I had signed a lease for an apartment, resumed school, and was working, that it hit me. BOOM! Out of nowhere I had anxiety attacks. I felt very claustrophobic with my lifestyle and the need to leave. My responsibilities had soon overwhelmed me and I felt they were restricting and restraining my need for adventure. I feared I would never leave the country again. My daily tasks were nowhere near as challenging as they had been abroad. For example, going to the grocery store abroad seemed exciting and perplexing on how to get there. Here, I just hop in my car and go.
At the time I had no idea there were conversations happening online about how to adjust after being abroad for a period of time. After my first time abroad, I had commitments and could not just take a vacation to relieve some of the pressure I was feeling. Being in Iowa, I wasn’t exactly by the beach or mountains either. My response to re-entry anxiety was to challenge and change my daily routine, habits, and means of transportation. I also started to think how could I take my experiences abroad and put them into my schoolwork with projects and papers. Once I started to incorporate my new perceptions and skills into my lifestyle, my anxiety went away. It was as if I had been shutting that part out for a bit because I did not want to be showy or inconsiderate of those around me.
My advice for re-entry is to be aware that you changed when you were abroad. Your perceptions of the world you live in have been transformed. It may take some time to fully adjust, but don’t be shy. Embrace the person you have become because it will benefit you and be valued in school, work, and your social life.