TOP 5: Things NOT To Do After Returning From Abroad

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You’ve been abroad and now you're home. You’re more worldly, more cultured, and excited to share your experiences with your friends and family. You feel like a changed person, but the problem is, everyone else is exactly the same. And not only that, they expect you to be the same, too.

So how do you relate to them without coming across as braggy or snobby? Here are some suggestions from a kid who hasn't been abroad yet, but who knows what it's like to hear never-ending tales about Brazilian carnivals, Italian wine, and Australian rugby matches.This brings us to our first piece of advice:

#5 Don’t go on and on and on and on.

Your friends and family are interested in your abroad experience, but that doesn't mean you have to start every sentence with, “When I was abroad... ” followed by an hour-long narrative. People only want to spend so much time hearing stories and looking at pictures. Remember, no matter how fascinating an experience was for you at the time, not all experiences make for interesting stories.

Think twice before you: Turn a discussion about what kind of pizza your friends should order into a half-hour ramble about Thai stir fry. 

Instead: Keep your stories specific, rather than just vaguely commenting on how nice this museum was or how awesome that monument was. Consider inviting your friends to a slideshow, during which you can share all the highlights of your experience during an allotted amount of time. Or, let your friends learn about your experience in their own time by sharing pictures and stories online.

#4 Don’t pretend to be from your host country.

Yes, spending a semester in another country does help you get to know that country. Yes, you adopted new practices and tried new things. Still, let's not lose perspective: You’re not actually from your host country. So while we encourage you to find ways to integrate your new knowledge into your life at home, remember that you can't bring it all back with you.

Think twice before you: Greet your friends with two kisses on each cheek or send them off with a “ciao!

Instead: Connect with people from your host country on campus or in your community if you're feeling nostalgic. That way, you can continue learning about their culture and keep practicing some of those cultural customs that you miss. 

#3 Don’t act "holier-than-thou."

One of the most exciting things about living abroad is being exposed to different tastes, perspectives, and practices. Sometimes this means reevaluating your own, whether that results in a newfound appreciation for quality coffee or newfound horror over the quantity of plastic bags that your compatriots use at the grocery store. Still, nobody wants to be lectured to, or hear you bash their tastes. 

Think twice before you: Say something like, “I can't believe you take 10-minute showers,” or, “I can’t believe I have to drink boxed wine again. We never drank that in Florence.”

Instead: Find positive ways to channel your newfound interests. Rather than lecture to your friends about water waste, take action by starting or joining a student group. If you want your friends to appreciate quality wine, take them to a nearby vineyard or a wine tasting. Trust us, they will have a lot more fun actively partaking in your interests than hearing you rant.

#2 Don’t flaunt it.

It's important to remember that it's not possible for everyone to go abroad. There are factors that hold many people back, like financial restraints, academic requirements, or family matters. You've been afforded a great opportunity that isn't necessarily available to everyone, even though it should be.

Think twice before you: Say something like, “Going to Denmark was the greatest experience of my life. You really need to get out of the country, Colin.”

Instead: Remember how lucky you are to have had this experience, and be sensitive when sharing stories with someone who hasn't been abroad yet. You can also get involved in campus-level or national initiatives to expand study abroad so that more people can have the opportunity that you did.

#1 Don’t hate on the United States.

Yes, it can be hard to settle back into your old American life. Maybe it seems boring and unexotic, or maybe new things suddenly bother you—the pace of life, the individualistic mentality, the mass consumption. But the fact is, there are many things that are wonderful about the United States, and they should not go unnoticed or unappreciated.

Think twice before you: Spend your weekend sulking in your dorm room or in your parents' basement, complaining about the inferiority of your native country.

Instead: Walk through a new neighborhood, find a new restaurant, meet a new person. Go on a road trip with your friends, or take a cheap flight to somewhere you've never been. Sometimes we forget about how many cultural enclaves exist right here in our own country: Take time to explore them. Bring that eagerness to learn and explore home with you. And if you don't always like what you find, use your newly expanded perspective to figure out how to make things better.

Colin May
* Many thanks to our intern, Colin May, for compiling this list. He's been a great intern, and for his services, we will be giving him a trip to Tijuana and a box of wine.



Posted on 9/04/2009 by

Greenheart Travel

Greenheart  Travel

Thank you for the great pointers! I cringe to think how I was guilty of one or two of those the first time I came back from overseas. Hopefully this will save someone from learning the hard way like I did. ;)

Posted on 9/05/2009 by

Mam Jarra

Mam Jarra

Well put! As the "one left behind" when my boyfriend studied abroad for a year, I couldn't agree more!! We almost didn't survive. We've since had the great privilege of going to many countries together, living in several, and try to balance the "bringing the world back home" (Peace Corps slogan :-) with not alienating everyone who loves and puts up with us. Thanks for giving us a humorous way to share the message with our son, who is currently studying abroad...

Posted on 9/16/2009 by

Yong Kwon

Yong Kwon

I would like an article that does not not focus entirely on people who went to Western Europe. I would like to know how we should cope with returning with our moral faculties savaged by a poor, decrepit, police state. How should we digest with the memories of children begging for food on the streets on their festering bare feet while we sit for the Christmas meal? How should we sit with the reality that our tax money ended up indirectly paying for police to sodomize the friends that we have made here? How do we deal with the bitterness and sheer rage that flows out of us when we read Glimpse articles drowning in vanity?

Posted on 9/17/2009 by

Catherine John

Catherine John

I was definitely guilty of most of these... after spending time back in the states, I realized there are many things I enjoy about our country. While spending time abroad allowed me to discover delights in other cultures, it also helped me realize what I value about my own.

Posted on 9/30/2009 by

Mark Hand

Mark Hand

@Yong Kwon Send me an email, man - I've delt with this on multiple occasions, sometimes well and sometimes not. mark.c.hand - at -

Posted on 11/07/2009 by

Abbie Mood

Abbie Mood

Thanks for this post - I think a lot of times our excitement about where we've been is misconstrued as bragging or "holier-than-thou", but it's a fine line because you really want to share your experiences. I've found that writing it down helps me explain it better and also lets people read what they want and skip over the other parts!

Posted on 11/24/2009 by

Lauren Quinn

Lauren Quinn

#6: Pronouncing the name of the country from which you've just returned with an affected authenticity: "Mejico" for Mexico, or "Cooba" for Cuba. Barf.

Posted on 5/18/2010 by

Renee Philbeck

Renee Philbeck

Very nice article, I definitely felt a few pangs of guilt while reading it. However, Mr. Yong Kwon there has a point. I went to the magical wonderland of America for vacation after finishing my first year of Peace Corps service and I was struck with how clean and orderly it was. Sure, the US isn't perfect, but neither are corrupt governments that don't provide basic health care or traversable roads for their people, but still find money for multi-million dollar shrines to their own vanity. Its true, we can have it all: we can love traveling as far away from home as possible and then be equally happy returning just to hear grandma's stories about her new cats.

Posted on 7/30/2010 by

Julia Vasinda

Julia Vasinda

I think this is very valid, and I definitely agree with every point as I try hard not to talk too much about my adventures abroad, but it actually is really hard to come back to the United States. Don't get me wrong, I love the U.S. and I can't imagine ever permanently leaving my home country. But it is hard to readjust specifically because your friends don't knows what you went through and expect you to be the same. If anyone ever said the things listed above to me I would be completely shocked, but unfortunately people most likely do say these things. In order to avoid all the scenarios above I actually created a pamphlet for my university to give to students returning from abroad and it used a lot of the wisdom you have put in here and hopefully will make things easier for all parties involved!

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