Learning about the different stages of how humans adapt to culture shock through various courses at Carleton is something I was grateful to study before going on exchange. The travelling I had done before entering the BIB program in first year, had never been for more than two weeks at a time and was usually accompanied by family or friends. While I did not realize to what extent culture shock was impacting me when I arrived in France, I can now see the Culture Shock Curve in all of its glory. The honeymoon phase, the crisis “why is everything different this is just wrong” phase, the “okay maybe this isn’t as bad as I thought” phase, the “okay you really need to adjust your perspective hunny” phase, and finally, acceptance. I will admit, my trip home in December interfered a little bit with this process, part of me feels like I kind of went through the motions of the cycle twice. Not at the same intensity and not about the same things, but there was definitely a pattern across the two semesters.
Highlighted in a couple different courses at Carleton, we also learned that coming home would come with the same tumultuous, cyclical patterns with an initial shock at how different home felt. I’ve been back in Toronto for about a week now and I haven’t felt any backlash or discomfort yet. Once again I imagine my trip home in December served as a good reminder of how things are done around here.
Things have been wonderful since I’ve been home; catching up with friends and family, starting my job, getting back into a routine that I missed a lot. Its been great – which lines up perfectly with the “honeymoon phase” and that leaves me wondering if this will come crashing down one day leaving me praying to be sent back to Europe. I can honestly say, while the cycles and stages and studies of culture shock demonstrate strong reasoning for me to be weary, I am not overly concerned. I feel strong and stable in my re-integration into host culture thus far, despite having only just starting the journey.
Not to propose that my way of doing things is the only, or even at all, “correct” way of coming home, I would suggest to future exchange students who may be reading this to focus on getting back into a routine as quickly as you can. I landed in Toronto late on Friday night and was starting my full-time summer job Monday morning at 7:30. Even if your internships (or whatever you may have lined up) don’t start until mid-summer, I encourage you to line up a part time job, or a volunteer position to help establish a sense of regiment. Maybe it’s just the way I operate, being a Type A who can’t really ever “not be doing something,” but the thought of coming home and having nothing lined up other than a social calendar would have potential to leave me feeling a little lost or restless.
I think another reason that I’ve felt so comfortable coming home is the time I took in my last week of exchange to properly appreciate the experiences I had and say goodbye to the friends (basically family) I made while abroad. I took a couple of days to re-do all the touristy things in Lyon, eat at all the restaurants I had grown to love, take pictures of all my favourite spots, and spent as much time with my friends – who I don’t know when I will see again (but hopefully soon) – as I possibly could.
This year abroad was an amazing experience. While it did not come without its trials and tribulations, the things I experienced have fulfilled me in a way I could only imagine when I boarded the plane last August. I wish all exchange students the same joy and sense of wanderlust that I found while exploring!
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