With the semester coming to an end, a large percentage of Elon University students are returning from international experiences while others are preparing for their upcoming summer or fall semesters abroad. Either way, it is a challenging and stressful transition to make, especially when one feels like he or she is making it alone.

“Coming back from being abroad proved to be more difficult than one would anticipate,” junior Michael Callahan said. “The lifestyle that I took part in when I was in Florence was much more different socially and academically. Coming back to the American lifestyle proved to be much more of a jarring transition than going there.”

Going abroad changes a person so dramatically that even his or her closest friends seem hard to relate to upon first returning. Some want to share your experiences and adventures, and people generally don’t want to hear every detail. They want the 60-second summary of how great it was, but then veer the conversation in a different direction. It can be frustrating and can make study abroad students feel alienated from peers they once felt they related to.

Jamile Tellez-Lieberman, a junior who spent the fall semester in Ecuador, experienced this firsthand.

“They want you to be the same person that they knew before you left,” she said. “But you can’t be because study abroad completely changes you.”

Relationships are not the only obstacle to overcome. Reverse culture shock is the cause for temporary depression and isolation in returning study abroad students.

“It was like coming back to a whole new world after I had already adjusted to what I thought was a different world,” Tellez-Lieberman said. “Everything here is easy and organized, and I found it was boring not having to worry about getting run over by a bus or maneuvering the tricky Ecuadorian transportation all the time.”

But the opposite is also true for some students. Junior Taryn Tonelli studied in Italy in the fall and said she didn’t experience any reverse culture shock.

“Part of me felt like it didn’t happen,”she said. “Did I dream that? I wasn’t culture shocked.  It was so incredible at the time, and now I’m just back to normal.”

The acknowledgment that life will be different back home is sometimes all you need to transition smoothly.

“Leave no adventure unaccomplished and you will be fine coming back,” Tonelli said. “I mentally prepped myself for leaving by starting to pack a week early. But I felt satisfied because I knew I had completed everything I wanted to do in Italy.”

Coming back to the Elon way of life and the American stress level can be a hard transition after months of relaxation, travel and adventure. But the switch can be seamless if you’re willing.

“If you’re coming back from being abroad, just be prepared and be aware of the difference in your daily schedule and the difference in the atmosphere and anxiety that comes with the American way of studying and learning,” Callahan said.

The biggest piece of advice previous study abroad students gave was to jump right back in. Immerse yourself in your favorite parts of the Elon community, and you will be welcomed with open arms.

So whether you’re leaving, returning or holding down the fort at Elon, there is always someone else experiencing the same feelings of anxiety, culture shock or depression, even if you think you’re alone.


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