Bridget Gunn looks at what it’s like settling back into your studies at UON after a semester (or two) abroad and how to reconcile the amazing time you had overseas with the return to normality.
As the end of semester is drawing ever closer (I know, crazy), it is almost time for some of UON’s intrepid travellers to return home. Although every exchange student hears those age-old expressions like ‘exchange is going to be the time of your life!’ and ‘you’re going to have so many crazy and weird experiences!’ people rarely warn exchange students about the culture and reality shock that is coming home.
From personal experience, I know that returning home after months away can be extremely challenging. Exchange helps you to build friendships all over the world and to live a completely different life, so it really can be a shock to come back to good ol’ Newy, where everything is pretty much the same as you left it.
So, if you are an exchange student on the brink of coming home, or you have a friend about to come back to Australia, or you just want a good read, settle in, because today I will be discussing some of the ‘coming back from exchange’ stereotypes with a couple of UON exchange veterans.
Jayden Urch, a Bachelor of Engineering student at UON, studied at Northern Arizona University in second semester last year.
Connor Sherwood also went on exchange to Hong Kong in the second semester of 2015, and the two have very different ideas about what it was like readjusting to UON life once more.
“My first semester back kind of just felt like another semester,” says Jayden.
“However, by the time semester started I had already been back for a month, and my campus at Northern Arizona was similar to UON, so it wasn’t too much of a shock.”
On the other hand, Connor says, “It was definitely an adjustment, study abroad semesters tend to be less difficult academically so coming back to a full set of final year courses after six months on easy street was tough.”
Both agree that, although they were expecting the readjustment period to be challenging, it wasn’t as hard as they expected.
“I feel like travelling gave me the perspective and energy I needed to tackle the readjustment period,” says Connor.
When asked if they got into any sports or activities at UON or around Newcastle, as per the age-old suggestion in every exchange brochure ever, the boys both answered with a resounding no.
“To readjust I saw all my mates, and I signed up to a few new clubs at O-Week,” says Jayden.
“Funnily enough the main one was UNESN, University of Newcastle Exchange Student Network, to hang out with internationals. Quite the opposite of readjusting but I guess that’s because it’s not readjusting, I’m not slipping into my old way of life!”
Connor also found that a combination of change and continuity helped with the process of returning home, “Weirdly, I found that getting more serious about my studies and my future career helped me to get back into the swing of things.”
Although returning from exchange is different for everyone, and one person’s suggestions might not work for someone else, Connor and Jayden both suggest that the most important thing is to remember your exchange in a positive light and, rather than dwelling on the past, keep moving forward into your future.
“When you come back home and have to deal with responsibilities and routine, it’s tempting to get nostalgic about the past or fantasise about future travel plans,” says Connor.
“My advice would be that it’s important to enjoy the present as much as you can. Try and strike a balance between the life you enjoyed overseas and the responsibilities you have back home.”
“Keep up the travelling spirit and don’t get lazy,” added Jayden.