They say that returning home after spending time in a different country can be harder than adjusting to life away in the first place. My culture shock comes in waves, alternating between experiencing pleasant surprises of ‘home’ and marveling at its deficiencies. Most significantly, I find myself asking, ‘is this it?’ as I participate in conversations and activities that don’t seem quite as vital as those I experienced in Ethiopia. One week in, here’s a list of tips for others in the same situation:
1. Don’t go home.
After a day in Toronto, I continued on to Boston where I’ll spend the last two months of the summer. Being in a new place provides excellent distraction from not being in Addis any longer, a distraction that wouldn’t be possible in a familiar city.
2. Join Facebook.
Adding the friends that you made overseas helps ease the transition away from roommates, coworkers and buddies, and into new interactions. I feel less lonely for my friends in Addis because I can keep track of their lives and converse with them on a daily basis. It makes them seem not quite so far away.
3. Stay involved.
If you were working for a company or ngo overseas, organize some tasks for yourself to do upon returning home. CPAR has asked me to do some writing for its newsletters, and I have some follow up to do with CAPAIDS. These tasks also provide a link with the life I lived in Ethiopia, and help mitigate the feelings of uselessness that comes from leaving a job I loved.
4. Link with other recent returnees.
On my first night back, I went to a bbq with some friends who I’d met in Addis. I’m afraid I might have overused their sympathetic ears, but being able to talk to someone who related was great. One of my friends hadn’t left the house since arriving back three weeks ago!
5. Channel your feelings of withdrawal.
Work on something related to your experience helps to minimize the feeling that the whole thing was a dream. Some suggestions: write an article about the country you visited for an online publication, organize a small fundraiser for an organization you became familiar with overseas, do a presentation for the organization you were overseas with…