When returning home from long trips abroad, I’m always surprised by how much has changed. Somehow, I seem to have a subconscious expectation that life was on pause – just waiting for me to come back and pick up where I left off.
Of course, that isn’t how it works.
I come back to find out that my circle of friends isn’t quite the same. Some people aren’t talking to each other anymore. Old couples have broken up, and new ones have formed. Old roommates have finished school and moved away.
Dealing with all this social upheaval can be confusing and emotionally draining. This is especially true when you are also readjusting in other ways, like relearning how to drive on the right side of the road.
Here are 6 ways to rekindle those friendships:
1. Work on your significant other first
If you went on your trip and left someone really important behind, you need to spend some quality time with him or her. Hopefully, you will both be overjoyed to see each other. But absence doesn’t always make the heart grow fonder.
If, for example, you’ve been studying abroad for the past year, things may seem awkward and distant until you get to know each other again.
Often, there can be a bit of resentment, buried and unspoken. You left! For a year!
Your friend or sweetheart won’t say it, but they might be wondering why you were the one traipsing around Europe while they kept to the routine back home. Even if you both agreed to the trip before you left, there were probably some times when they regretted letting you go.
Counteract any friction by planning small getaway trips for the two of you. A couple of weekend hiking trips can work wonders.
Check out a cultural exhibit at the museum. You can even rediscover your home town by researching it as if you were new to the area. Your friend will feel better about your travels after you include them in some smaller adventures.
2. Stay in touch with your new friends.
Make sure you get the e-mail addresses of friends who you met on the road. These are the people who will understand your reasons for traveling. Many of them have also made the choice to upset their lives and spend some time out in the world.
Send these travel buddies a message now and then. Share pictures from the trip. Find out where they are going next. Invite them to come visit you. Plan to visit them.
Even if you lost track of a few people back home while traveling, you will be busy enough keeping in touch with your new friends.
3. Don’t brag too much.
After returning from a year in Wales, I found it difficult to talk about anything other than my trip. Every conversation was an excuse to bring up another crazy story about my favorite Welsh pub.
Later, I realized that these stories didn’t matter much to my friends back home. They weren’t there. I learned to limit myself to mentioning my trip only when answering a direct question.
Unless they are travelers themselves, family and friends may not understand what your trip was all about. Some won’t want to hear about it. Some want only the one minute summary.
Some friends and family may be jealous, and others may think your journey was frivolous. Don’t worry about this too much, and don’t try to convince them to become enthusiastic about something in which they aren’t interested. Save the stories for those who really want to hear them.
4. Throw a party.
A great way to reconnect with friends back home is to invite everyone over to your place at once. This may seem like a splash of cold water, but a big party has several benefits.
A party gets you back in touch with many of your friends. This allows you to answer all
the inevitable questions at the same time instead of spread out over months. (Where is Wales anyway? Why don’t you have a British accent now?)
Plus, since the fiesta is explicitly a coming home party, you will be expected to talk about the trip and pass around photos.
This is your chance to share your enthusiasm. Get it all out of your system so that you don’t corner someone every week with an unwanted slideshow.
5. Don’t force it.
You don’t have to stay friends with everyone with whom you used to hang out. If you sense that someone isn’t very interested in spending time with you anymore, ask yourself how
much effort you honestly want to put forth.
Don’t feel bad if a few people have moved on without you. It happens. Most of us don’t socialize with all of the friends we once knew. (Think about all the high school friends who you don’t see anymore.)
Say “Hi” when you see old friends on the street, and don’t worry about growing apart. You are a different person now, and so are they.
Have you just returned from a long trip? Are you dealing with reverse culture shock? You’re not the only one.
Many Matador members are returning home, like Tim Patterson (back in Vermont after 5 months in South America) or travelLiz (about to leave Salta, Argentina for grad school in the states).
Get in touch with these travelers or join the discussion “Reverse Culture Shock Is A Bitch” in the Matador forums.