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Tips for a successful reentry to the U.S. after studying, living, or traveling abroad.

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:

1. 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.

2. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

Community Connection

This piece was written by Colin May, an intern at Matador has recently acquired and we strongly encourage you to head over there and check out Glimpse’s feature stories, articles, blogs, and tips.

What NOT to do


About The Author

Sarah Menkedick

Matador Contributing Editor Sarah Menkedick has traveled, lived, and taught on five continents, and is constantly in pursuit of spicy food, dark beer, and new places to run. She is an MFA student at the University of Pittsburgh.

  • Mario Arana

    Brilliant! I have been guilty of a few of those, but I´ve gotten better over the years. :)

    • Peter

      Boring as all shite. No crap if u r carrying on like the doosh the article suggests u r then u r a knobber. Straight up your mates should tell u this. No wonder travelling Americans have trouble meeting other non Americans on the road. The USA is a culture of dribble.

  • Josh

    Great post, Sarah! I often find myself battling the urge to do many of these after returning to the States 2 months ago.

    I would say, however, that for some people the host country truly does become their own. Reflexively, I still call China “home” and I guarantee you there’s no pretending there. Sure, 6 months might be too short to establish roots, but at some point you have to consider time to be a factor. After 4 years I feel I have a certain right to claim China as a major part of my life…

    …then again maybe I’m the exact type of person who needs to read this article.

  • jessiev

    yes!! and another thing NOT to do – stay home! head out for your next trip!!

    it is wonderful when we can integrate new cultures and countries into our lives. being an intercultural person is such a joy.

  • Alaina

    Will keep this article in mind when I return in two weeks! :)

  • Suzette

    Great tips – not just applicable to US residents but people everywhere who happen to travel to some other place. I’ve been both guilty and annoyed by some of your highlights – LOL! Thanks for sharing :)

  • Paul

    Ha it’s funny how you could quite easily adapt this post to talk about friends who’ve just had babies, similarities are plentiful.

  • Candice

    There is NOTHING I despise more than a travel snob. Gah!

  • Scott

    Nice, thoughtful post. Since returning from my first Big One – a year ’round the world in ’82 – (when I, one-by-one, showed a group of friends EVERY slide I’d taken during that year) I prefer now (with many other multi-month international journeys under my belt) to let How-I-Am be a reflection of How the Trip Was. Can I manifest the gift and blessing of the time I just had? Like the old writing maxim – Show don’t tell.

  • Anne M

    Yeppp, I hate to admit that I’ve been guilty of a couple of these in the past.

    I think that when you return home from abroad, it can seem as though nothing has changed in the lives of your friends and family. But even if they’re hanging out with the same people and drinking at the same bars, change is relative. Someone’s promotion at work or new organic gardening project is just as important to them as your month at a Darjeeling ashram was to you.

    I’ve caught myself doing it; saying “oh, so things are the same with you, it seems.” But I remind myself that change isn’t always a big change, and news isn’t always big news, and if my friend will listen to my stories, I should listen with equal attentiveness to hers.

  • DHarbecke

    Great article! I think it’s natural to catch yourself in some of these behaviors – after all, you’re still trying to process your time abroad and fit it into your lifestyle. As long as it avoids excess… listening to yourself and considering the effect of your words will help you avoid sounding like a schmuck.

    If we’re adding to the list, I also recommend rationing the number of Thai shirts you wear per week. Sure, they look sweet – but the locals will be calling you Dr. No if you shun moderation. This, of course, didn’t happen to me.

  • frida

    #1 is pretty irritating – as someone who has yet to go abroad, I had to listen to a friend of mine for (not kidding) 5 hours straight talk on the phone about her trip to Spain, Holland, and France. She talked for so long, by the end of the conversation I felt like *I* had been there too.

    But the most irritating of the bunch is definitely #4. I once had a professor of mine tell me ‘you’re told old to have not been anywhere’ (I was 26 at the time). I guess it never occurred to her that there might actually be a reason (namely funds) and not just disinterest or laziness on my part. She made me feel really bad about it. So, please think before you speak.

  • frida

    oops – meant to write ‘too old’

  • Abbie

    These are great tips – I totally hate on the United States when I come back from abroad.

  • Suzi Rosenberg

    Well done, Sarah!

    I would venture to say your advice and tips have universal application, as Suzette & Paul mentioned above.

    Another peeve of mine is just the opposite – when someone comes into a new place (whether it be a new town they’re moving to or a host country), and puts down the “way things are done here” vs the “way we did things back home” – just as annoying in my view!

    Thanks for the tips – I’ll try very hard not to make these mistakes in my own relationships! :-)

  • Emily-di

    This is pretty good!

    I have grown up over seas and many of these rules I have internalized over the years. Although some of them were never problem for me. Either way they definitely ring true.

    I do have to argue a little with the ‘not everyone can go overseas’ statement. One of my pet peeves is hearing people tell me how lucky I am to be able to travel so much. There is no luck involved. I worked my ASS off to be able to afford my jaunts overseas where I leave my family behind and sometimes take up time best used building a career. I once had to learn how to play an instrument in order to travel to china. I would spend every night until 3 am practicing the same measures over and over again (sometimes freaking out about how I would never be good enough) and then hear my brother the next day tell me how lucky I am because I get to go to china.

    I realize everyone’s life is different but for those people who travel, luck has very little to do with it. We make it happen.

    …I guess the part I really take issue with is the ‘remember how lucky you are’ part.

    Sorry for the rant, just a pet peeve. Great article, though.

    • Brock

      EMILY-DI -
      I don’t often comment, but I’d like to contribute my two cents to this discussion. I completely agree with your point about it not being a matter of being ‘lucky’ when it comes to travel. Yes, I have friends in Kenya who do not have the means to travel as putting food on their table is enough of a struggle. Some people are not in the position to travel abroad, but they are also not the ones that expressed that they were jealous or unable to. Instead it was friends, family and people in my community who would say they can’t afford it and that I was lucky. They also drink starbucks, have cable and go out for drinks on a Friday night. I did not grow up with much money and when I was on my own, putting myself through university, I had to make some pretty serious sacrifices in order to make my travel dreams a reality. For a number of us, it’s not a matter of luck as many might think.
      Additionally, in reference to #2, don’t say ciao? Seriously? Perhaps it’s because I live in Canada but people say ciao and phrases in other languages all the time. A friend of mine is Thai, I would never suggest she shouldn’t say hello to me in Thai because she’s neither in Thailand nor was she born there. That’s just how she prefers to say hi. Be different! It adds colour to life.

      • Emily-Di

        Oh yes, I see that I left something out of my rant. There are many people who cannot travel because of poverty and political situations, but these are not the people I take issue with. Like you said, my friends and family members who complain with a starbucks latte in their hands, Gucci sunglasses, and Prada purse at their feet that I am so lucky to be able to afford to travel. People who say wistfully how wonderful it would be to go and never make an effort. These are particularly annoying when its someone you would like to travel with – you make plans and only figure out halfway through that they are speaking in a metaphorical sense, like they never expect any of it to actually happen. Its definitely a mind set that needs to be cultivated.

        As for #2, I can see where she’s coming from. Sometimes it can be obnoxious. But if its something you would say anyway, I don’t think it’s a problem. I’ve known people who say goodbye in foreign languages just to remind everyone present that they have been there. If you don’t operate that way, then its cool.

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  • Wroksie

    Well Emily-d, I definitely agree with you. Frida said that a “professor” told her she was too old to have not traveled at age 26. The statement implies that she was having a conversation with HER professor. Which likely meant money was involved in going to some institute of higher education. That itself was a way she CHOSE to spend money.

    I grew up in a quite poor, large family. Yet my first travel experience was at 19, to Europe. I went to college and would be classified as a “professional”, except, I truly enjoy traveling. So I don’t bog myself down with many creature comforts that those who are always lamenting about how ‘lucky’ I am, do.

    If you take classes at a community college, you can afford to travel. If you can buy a designer purse, you can go on a trip. If you smoke cigarettes or drink beer or get your nails done, YOU can go venture abroad.

  • frida

    Yes, point taken. We all make choices in life. I was attending a community college at the time and only working part-time so that I could focus on my studies. Don’t know if your final statements were directed at me or not, but I definitely was not buying any designer purses or feeding any vices. I was just trying pay my bills, rent, and keep up on car repairs (yes, it’s a choice to have a car also, I know).

    The truth is, that professor’s statement probably hit me so hard because I realized I hadn’t made travel a priority in my life. People move at different speeds. People want things at different ages. Things have changed and now traveling is something I very strongly want to do. At that time it just wasn’t a great desire. Still, I take issue with people telling others things like ‘you’re too old to have not traveled’, etc. If people want to make travel a priority in their lives then they will. But really, it’s no one’s business if they don’t. Guess I just object to the self-righteousness of some traveler’s.

    • Emily-Di

      No, none of my comments were directed at you, Frida. I am the first to admit that some travelers are completely obnoxious about being travelers. If you have no interest in traveling up until a certain age, there is nothing wrong with you, your professor was just being snooty. I know people who live their whole lives without leaving their home country and they are happy as clams. And though I would recommend it for everyone, if you don’t want to its not really a requirement.

      My issue is with people who whine about not being about to afford travel when there are clearly things they can do. But if its not on your agenda, then its not on your agenda.

  • Wroksie

    I do know many folks that completed their around-the-world trip well before age 20 and spoke at least another language almost fluently. Some were really cool, but many seemed to be overinflated braggarts. So regardless of when you were bitten by the travel bug, let’s just celebrate that you have!

  • melissa

    gah, i am GUILTY of all of these since i’ve been home. it’s easy to live in the past in any given situation; some people abroad only talk about their lives at home! my work now is figuring out how to keep the stories flowing (in writing, people can read at their leisure!) and to stay present!

  • Megan

    Great post! I can say I have been guilty of all of those things. You live and learn. I really like # 5 Don’t hate on the United States. The US has so much to offer; however, we never take the time to discover what is in our backyards.

    • melissa

      it’s easy to forget that every moment we’re breathing, we’re moving, we’re traveling on this journey of life!

      taking a traveler’s perspective to a 45 minute highway commute to work isn’t exactly my mind’s natural response, but you’re right. possible, but plausible? good call, megan.

  • Scott

    melissa – interesting . . . how do we, as writers, stay present when often (referring to writing about places I’ve been) we must live/re-live the past to do what we do? Sounds like a koan to me . . . one hand clapping.

    I’m going to admit Here and Now that I, Scott, Live in the Past. I’m not (yet) a fiction writer, I write about the places I’ve been and the people I’ve met and myself in the context of both of those things. I dwell in the past! Revel in it! Roll around (sometimes naked) in it! There . . . I’ve said it . . . I feel a lot better for it.

    But, I do return from the Past, occsaionally . . . friends of mine who live in the Present – all the time – require and deserve that :)

    • melissa

      hey scott – do it! roll and revel in those memories!

      moderation, in moderation, i believe is key. i too surround my physical body and consciousness in magical golden morsels of moments, funny tidbits, glimpses of golden conversation. in this way i too roll around (in the most dog-like fashion) in the crunchy fallen leaves of the past. i just try not to throw handfuls of them at my friends and acquaintances :)

  • Allison

    I completely agree with your post. There is nothing I hate more than someone returning from 5 months in London with a british accent and saying they “cant help it they just picked it up”.

    I think there should be a part two to this post as well, a 5 GUIDELINES TO FOLLOW WHEN ABROAD:
    1. adopt to the local customs as best you can
    2. manage your noise level when speaking, most places do not squeal like N. Americans do
    3. Try to eat lots of local cuisine and not only McDonalds
    4. Don’t walk around with your iphones/blackberrys etc… if you are in a much poorer country, its braggy and makes you a target for theift
    5. Enjoy yourself, relax and go with the flow, dont take your stress with you.

    • mattnnz

      think there should be a part two to this post as well, a 5 GUIDELINES TO FOLLOW WHEN ABROAD:
      1. adopt to the local customs as best you can
      2. manage your noise level when speaking, most places do not squeal like N. Americans do
      3. Try to eat lots of local cuisine and not only McDonalds
      4. Don’t walk around with your iphones/blackberrys etc… if you are in a much poorer country, its braggy and makes you a target for theift
      5. Enjoy yourself, relax and go with the flow, dont take your stress with you.

      I’m not sure where people get the idea that N. Americans, especially the US speak loudly. I’d say we are about middle of the road. I have been living in Vietnam for a bit over a year and I can tell you that the Vietnamese and Chinese generally have a loud speaking register and are inclined to yelling to each other across rooms (it simply isn’t rude here). The Australians, Kiwis and British seem to have roughly the same speaking register as Americans. The Nigerians seem to be a bit louder than the Americans but not as loud as the Vietnamese. I don’t like stereotypes but this seems to be what each group is on average.

      Seems like a quarter of the population in Hanoi has a iphone3+ and they don’t mind who sees.

      BTW: A McDonalds burger wouldn’t be half bad every once in a while. I’ll probably get a Big Mac among other things when I go back to the US to visit

  • Sara

    Hi Sarah,
    Great article. It is definitely adjustment to come back to the States (or wherever home is). These are great tips that were very relevant for me when I came back after 21 months in Asia.
    I also didn’t realize how much time the adjustment can take. I figured 3-5 days for jetlag and easing back in, but at two weeks, I had a major shift and felt like I came out of a travel induced fog. I was lucky to have a place to land for a few weeks before jumping back into my life as I knew it.
    After almost a year back in the States, I can’t wait to get back to Japan and readjust to their culture again!

  • fourteentwentyfour

    Cool article, but I’d just like to make a side comment. It’s odd that matador is all about travelling and embracing the world, but the reader for whom the majority of authors write, is American. That is to say, the unstated context of the intended reader is usually an American one. Don’t take for granted that American culture is universally understandable. I understand that the language of communication on this forum is English and that that is the native country of the majority of the authors on this site, but let us not forget that the USA is not the only country from which English mother-tongue Matadorians originate, dear friends, and that many non-English souls have enough good taste to love this website too. As an avid NON-American, multilingual, bi-national fan of this website, it grieves me to constantly notice this oversight. In other countries, Americans are famous and generally disliked for the stereotypical mind set of thinking that the USA is the global standard or the Capital Country of the World, as it were, and that if it is not American, it is wrong and foreign. I IMPLORE you not to let that kind of ignorance be blatantly splashed across the pages of this otherwise rock-out solace for the eternal voyager.

    Just a thought.

  • http:// Chris

    Great list…

    I admit, I’ve been guilty of some (ok, all) of these, but I’m working on it. :)

  • Sean

    Great tips. Maybe giving ’5 tips with dos and don’ts’ is a cultural artifact too?

    Wonder if 1 semester abroad when you’re 19 is enough to make you question privatised healthcare and the Tea Party??? hmmm??

  • Sean

    PS and Italian wine for quaffing is generally not of good quality — lacks body — so I wouldn’t worry about cask wine getting back home!

  • Teo

    It’s funny, I’ve adopted the “chau” thing. But I think I get away with it because I’m a Spanish teacher.

    Also regarding #2, and #5, my six months in Argentina caused me to fall in love with the country. But it also made me keenly of just how “American” I am. It also made me appreciate many things that I take for granted when I am in the US.

  • Paul Luedtke


    Good list. But how about a few positive things. These are just “don’ts.” Also, they only have to do with not being a pain to others. What positively can you do you help yourself with your own reverse culture shock?



  • darmabum

    Good idea, Paul. As for me . . . what travel does (Top 3) is make my world larger. Beyond all the new sights and sounds and smells – beyond all the new sensual experiences that travel has afforded me, is a larger sense of how life is lived, and how it can be lived. It gives me perspective on what “Life” is in my own country – the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’.

    While it can, and has, taken some time after a trip to assimilate all the new information, it does come out, it does manifest itself in how I act toward strangers; in what is personally important to me; in ‘who’ is personally important for me. In general in manifests itself most often in the idea that life in my own country is far too complex, that time is too hard to find, and that if these things are important to me, that I can – will, and have – restructured my own life to accomodate these things that my own culture pays lip-service to being important, but rarely – in reality – does anything about.

    The writer Barry Lopez wrote (regarding the adoption of other people’s/cultures way) “we do not need to become a people in order to avail ourselves of their wisdom.” For as many peoples/cultures as there are in the world, there are as many sources of wisdom. The act of travel has afforded me shards of this other wisdom, and I have incorporated it with my own.

  • Matt Huntington

    This is hilarious! You hit the nail on the head.

  • Murissa Maurcie

    So True! I wasn’t sure what to do with myself after I returned from Italy after a month. It was an amazing experience I just wanted to talk about it. Obviously my family was happy for me but less enthusiastic to see 3000 photos.
    So I turned to making a photo book with its own explanations and with only the best of the best photos. Now everyone enjoys looking at them throughout the year and they ask me about particular things when they want to know.
    I have been trying to plan another trip for next summer but I have been thinking that staying on the continent may be a good idea. A culinary road trip from Denver, New Orleans, Savannah, New York and maybe even Seattle for good measure. I may be Canadian but America is right in my back yard.
    I started a blog now so this time so I will be able to channel all my excitement into a cyberspace where people share my excitement.

  • Baxter Jackson

    When I go back to the States, I don’t hate – I celebrate!

    I love how all the lines on the road mean something and people obey them. I love how everyone parks in the same direction on the street and I love (and I can’t believe I’m saying this) that if you don’t pay your tickets, you go to jail. There’s just something to be said about repercussions.

    The orderliness and anonymity is refreshing. And then there’s the skin. It’s shocking to see so much flesh at first but then it’s just awesome! God bless America!

    Your man in Oman,

  • Alix


    These are nice tips, and yes I am guilty of all of these at varying degrees (and for #5 it’s not the U.S. since I’m not American). I do try to keep in moderation, as has been said in comments, but it’s a work in progress!

    In addition, I do think it would be nice to have some tips on welcoming back people who have been travelling. Family and friends should also have some understanding (and tolerance) for the returnee’s enthusiasm, as well as the fact that be it after 4 months or years, they might genuinely miss the place they just left. And that it can be hard to find your place again in a place everyone assumes is the home you are glad to have returned to. I’ve been happy to come back, but it has been tough too.

    • Alix

      ps – And it is such a joy to be asked by friends and family about your trip (even if you already wrote many things by blog and email!) and to feel genuine interest. A couple of years ago, it was not someone I knew but a new colleague, who, each morning, as we both arrived earlier than most others at the office, asked me to show him a few photos of where I had just been. It was so nice!

  • darmabum

    Alix – Your points are well taken, especially those regarding the reactions to your journey by those who stayed at home. It’s my thinking that unless those people have traveled too, then “understanding” and “tolerance” may be hard to come by. Something that might help is for the returnee to to share with those who stayed how difficult it is. I don’t know if you’ve done that upon return, shared with them how hard it is, sometimes, to fit back into life “at home”, but that might open conversation in that direction.

    The fact that someone, a new colleague, was the one to ask might suggest that those closest to you might be as confused as you are regarding your return.

  • Baxter Jackson

    In short, don’t be a bore and remember that is a quality problem.

  • James

    Nice job, and I love the part about seeking out the exotic at home. After returning from my last trip to Guatemala, I noticed a little nitch of store right here in Tampa. It looked so much like the pulperia’s I’d left in Puerto Quetal…but get this. I drive by it all of the time and have yet to go in there. I’m goin in today, thanks!,

  • Study in Cyprus

    I think these are great recommendations for students returning from
    study abroad.  Student testimonials are very effective in promoting
    study abroad opportunities to
    others.  What better way to increase interest
    on campus while the returning student continues to reflect and learn
    from the experience.

  • Kim

    When I got back from studying abroad, I didn’t tell people (other than my immediate family) about it unless they asked something specific. I find it’s much more fun to reveal little stories over time than gush. It’s also interesting how much people relate to #5. I actually experienced the reverse. Before I left, I *hated* the US. But while I was abroad I realized how much appreciation I had for the little things that make it home. Going abroad made me love both countries even more!

  • Mnbj

    shut up.

  • Thisarticlesucks

    people like hearing about experiences, youre probably just bitter because you’ve never travelled anywhere

  • Lynn Chou

    Haha so true, and I’m working on being better at it…thanks for sharing the tips!

  • Katherine Taylor

    good article!

  • Jesse Buell

    I actually think that a big part of going abroad is teaching you to evaluate how things are done in your own country. If there is room for improvement, pointing it out is a good thing.

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