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