So, we’ve discussed many things that can help you before and during your exchange. We now know how to learn to deal with the language differences when abroad and how to arrange health and finance matters to gain a feeling of safety and freedom too.
After reading all the posts, it may occur to you as ‘the exchange handbook by a controlfreak’, which is kind of true. I have had difficulties with just leaving everything behind without getting a grasp of what I was up to. However, this doesn’t mean preparation and taking care of certain matters restrict your possible adventures. As I mentioned before, these practicalities and preparations are only to invest in some kind of safety net. Because you know certain things and know you have taken measures it is easier to go on adventure. And as much as I would like to have prepared more, there are so many things that you could never know beforehand which will still go spontaneously. It basically enables you to feel more at ease in your new home so that you can explore more and settle in better during your exchange. For example, not properly taking care of a health safety net or finance matters on purpose are not ‘adventurous’ but will simply cost you an insane amount of (wasted) money and time that you could’ve spent on more “real” adventure!
In my two-day plane flight home, I was looking back on my exchange. I thought about how far away the first months seemed after 6 more months of traveling. When scrolling through my pictures I’ve already forgotten about so many things in the beginning, but still couldn’t imagine losing my mindset and memories at that moment. I really don’t want to scare you, but coming back to the Netherlands was one of the most difficult times in my life. Life really stood still, my friends, family and housemates were all the same. Everybody is waiting for the version of you before you left to return. And as I mentioned in the cliches, there is a big possibility you will feel different when you’ve had so many life changing experiences. Perhaps it is not that you are different, but your perception changed. This can be a though confrontation with the life you had before you left, the life that you’re almost forced to roll into again. It takes a huge effort not to ease into your older flaws, and not neglect the things that you’ve learned abroad. For example, when I was in Australia I couldn’t even stay in town for more than two weeks without wanting to do a trip or seeing something completely new. When I was back, it felt like such a huge effort to undertake a trip to Berlin, which is a mere 5 hours by car. I almost cancelled to stay at home, watch Netflix and perhaps have a drink at the same cafe I always go. It is so hard to break the daily grind again in the life you build for yourself for years.
There are of course things you can do to make the transition to your old life without losing the valuable perceptions/changes you’ve experienced and not forget the amazing memories. The following things really helped me:
#1. Visualize your most special memories on your walls, in a picture album or make a video
If you need to take a moment to relive the vibe, visuals of your trip can help you. Listening to music you’ve listened to at the time, or using that specific perfume or lip bam you used can help you think/feel back to that moment too.
#2. Talk to (or be with, if possible) friends who you’ve shared memories with
When you talk with your friends to share stories new things will pop up, and with their presence it is also easier to help realize that your adventures we’re in fact real and brought you so much.
#3. Talk to people in your surrounding if you’re having a hard time
If you feel like no one gets you anymore, give them a chance and explain how your perception/feelings changed, so they can readjust. It is not their fault, they can’t see how you feel unless you explain it to them.
#4. Try to do all the things that you really liked before, and stop doing the things you did on auto-pilot
The feeling of dissatisfaction when coming back origins from partly ignoring things you perhaps didn’t love to do before. When traveling, it’s easier to be selfish and only do things you feel like at the moment. Some things in your daily grind you do just because you’ve been doing it for a while. Take the time to reevaluate things you do and how they make you happy (or not).
So, as you’ve read in my experiences, an exchange is anything but an ordinary trip. It can be an amazing experience, positive or negative, but it is something out of the ordinary that should not be taken lightly. Hopefully your experience is (or has been) as incredible as mine was! If you have nice stories you would like to share, or are having any trouble with coming back, share your experience in the comments below! I’d love to hear about it or help you out. 🙂