Hi everyone. This month’s newsletter will be out shortly, but I thought I’d post one of the articles on here in advance, since it may be useful to many of the international postgraduates among you. As we approach the end of the year, some of you who’ve come here from overseas may be preparing to return home for the holidays; this can be a time of both excitement and anxiety, joy and sadness.
Kellie Cathcart, one of UON’s Online Counsellors and a regular contributor to our newsletters, writes this month about the emotional challenges of returning home, and offers some advice on how to re-acclimatise yourself.
You can’t go backwards when you go back
by Kellie Cathcart
When you first arrive abroad to study for an extended period of time, you expect that you will miss home. You figure that, over time, you will get used to the differences, and that you will be so busy with new experiences that this feeling will pass quickly. For most people it usually does.
What you don’t expect, though, are the mixed emotions that you experience when you are leaving your temporary home and returning home. Now that I think of it, these feelings are not just limited to international travel, but they can apply equally for interstate or just an hour or two. Settling into a new community or leaving one behind can be harder than you think.
If you stay focused on the practical side of things, it becomes about visas, passport, travel arrangements, packing your suit case or cleaning up. There are certain rituals like booking tickets, cleaning out your fridge and making arrangements for your flight that you can do with no problem, but when you go to say goodbye to friends or places which have some importance to you, the emotions can come flooding to you and seem overwhelming.
You start thinking about all the good times, the people you have met along the way that you’re not sure when you will see next, or the new food you have discovered that you can’t get back at home. Of course I’m talking about Vegemite! Some things you will take home with you – mementos, photos and, fortunately, due to rapidly growing access to technology, the ability to stay in touch with new friends.Again, you start to prepare yourself for the losses that you will feel, and start to make plans to incorporate some of your new skills, knowledge, attitudes or cooking skills into your old life back home.
But what about that old life back home? People often make the mistake of assuming that while they have been gone, nothing has changed much. Whilst they have kept in touch with friends and family to learn the big news, the little day-to-day life activities may have changed, the things that weren’t newsworthy and therefore not communicated in e-mail or via Skype.
If you’re going back to a workplace, there may be new policies, new procedures and new staff to consider. Or if you are going home, there might be some changes around the house in terms of decoration or who uses the bathroom at what times now. Taking time before you leave to consider what might have changed, and being open in your approach when you go home might just help avoid conflict, both with others and within yourself.
When you get past leaving us behind, you may start to feel the euphoria of going home. You may have increased cravings for a particular food you have missed while you have been gone, or you may be looking forward to giving your parents an actual hug or visiting your favourite park.
This can last for a while after you return, but don’t be surprised if it starts to fade and you find yourself getting irritated or critical of your culture in comparison to what you have been living whilst in Australia. Remember that you felt like that when you first left home also, and the feelings did pass over time. It will take time to settle into new routines, and to take your new skills, attitudes and values and assimilate them with your home and culture.
If it’s a little bit of a struggle, then there are a few things you can do to help yourself find your new rhythm. Keep busy, make sure you try new things, take opportunities, stay social and try and concentrate on your relationships. Reach out to those people you miss back in Australia and share your feelings and experiences with those who are in a similar position. Even if it’s a different culture and country, some of the friends you made when you were gone are probably experiencing the same mixed emotions at returning home. Also, try and stay active and get involved in your local community.
Change, no matter what direction, can always be challenging. The experiences you had while you were away have allowed you to grow. It’s impossible when you grow to reverse the effects, so embrace the new parts of you and push forward. You will find your new rhythm at home soon enough.
If you are leaving Australia soon and experiencing some of these challenges, come along to NUPSA’s ‘Going Home’ workshop on November 24. It’s more of a social gathering than a workshop, a chance to have a chat about your experiences since arriving here and your thoughts on returning home.
– Kellie Cathcart, UON Online Counsellor
Our ‘Going Home’ workshop will run on Thursday, November 24, from 9.30am til 11.00am, in the Clubhouse at Bar on the Hill. You can find all the details, and register your attendance, by clicking here.