2.1 - Preparing to Come Home



Winding Down: Preparing to Come Home


This section is about capturing memories and saying a "good”" Good-bye. As one’s overseas journey begins to draw to a close there are a number of simple but important things you can, and should, do to make sure you bring proper closure to your adventure. These range from taking last minute photos and getting addresses of overseas friends and program classmates to being sure to say your goodbyes in a culturally appropriate manner.

Once abroad it is easy to get so involved in classes and daily activities, including planning trips to every other country on the continent, that we often forget to see deeply into the local culture and record that which is closest to us. Building memories is one of the joys of overseas study, but before long your daily routine becomes just that – routine! So if you have not already done so you should record as much of your everyday life as you can, especially those ordinary places, people, and things you want to remember. This can include everything from collecting photographs (film, digital, VCR), to buying popular music CD’s, local handicrafts, postcards of your favorite places, or even learning to cook a dish you like.

Capturing these photos and material touchstones will give you an opportunity to explore more deeply those things that have become a regular part of your life overseas. It is surprising how quickly one can get used to living in the new place and take things that once seemed so new or odd and overlook them completely. Suddenly, you are not noticing ordinary features of daily life any more. They are no longer strange. This generally indicates that you have become somewhat adapted to the culture.

Suggestions about what to record could include the street you live on and your room, your favorite clubs, pubs, and restaurants, the neighborhood, classmates, a local park or church, the neighbors you greet daily, street vendors and local markets…in short, anything you feel important to capture for future memories. Pictures of the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, the Vatican or other major monuments are nice, especially with you and your friends standing in front of them. However, everyone sees pictures of these places all the time. They are visually familiar but no one has seen the places that are part of your everyday life. Those photographs will not only be more interesting to the folks at home but more meaningful to you when you return.

Remember, however...

1. Cameras can be stolen.

2. Developing film can be expensive. These days, the digital camera may be the best way to record and preserve photographs. Of course, you can share them by email almost immediately. 

3. Think about how you will share your photographs: how they will be organized, presented, and preserved.

If you are an artist, even a budding one, try capturing everyday life in small paintings, sketches or drawings This rarely goes unnoticed and people will often glance at what you are doing and, if it looks interesting, could be asking YOU questions.

Journaling is, of course, an excellent way of keeping track of your experience. "Two books listed in the bibliography in Module 3 are a good resource on journaling: Chisholm and Berry's Understanding the Education – and Through It The Culture – in Education Abroad, and Hess' The Whole World Guide to Culture Learning."

The main point is to think about how you are going to take your memories home because they will fade over time.

Keeping in touch..

Keeping in touch by email is so common that it is hardly worth mentioning; however, warning is necessary here. Sometimes people spend so much time on email, that they hardly experience the new culture at all. In fact, if you are at the Internet Café much of your free time while abroad, you may want to think about the possibility of being in some kind of transition shock. That said, it does help to keep track of:

  • Changes in your family (has there been illness, loss, new arrivals, moves, relationship changes, etc.)

  • Changes in the lives of your friends.

  • Changes on campus…what major events have occurred or alterations made in how things are done.

  • Changes in your home community.

  • Changes in public life at home: elections, shifts in political directions and the like.

This need not be an exhaustive or exhausting process but simply, and as briefly as possible, one of keeping up to date on major events so that you are not clueless when you return home.




Saying a culturally proper goodbye 

One of the most neglected aspects of an overseas sojourn is the way one goes about taking leave. Nobody likes to say goodbye and many study abroad students put it off until it is either too late altogether or they rush through the process. This is a big mistake.

If you have made any friends or acquaintances while abroad, had a favorite teacher, lived with a home-stay family, got to know a local shop keeper, or established any regular relationship which was mutually important, then it is very important that you show respect and acknowledge the bond properly. It may be that there is a particular custom in your host-country for leave-taking that you may not be aware of and you may wish to ask a friend or mentor about (i.e. in Germany it is customary to give your own bon voyage party to which you invite your friends or fellow students!). In some cultures, distributing small gifts to those you are leaving is appropriate. In others, the opposite may be true -- the returnee is often given a small token; however, if they leave abruptly or without adequate notice, this may not be possible and may be considered very poor manners. A gift of a photograph that you have taken may be a wonderful way to leave a memory of yourself behind. Understand, every culture has its own rules on the appropriate way to bring closure. Doing the culturally sensitive thing is likely to be greatly appreciated and remembered by those left behind.

When the time comes to depart and return home, it is very important to say goodbye to all those places as well as the people who have become part of your life. A last visit, and taking the photos that you have forgotten until now, brings closure to your stay. Of course, besides momentos, pictures, and memories you are likely to be bringing back some intercultural skills, behaviors, and attitudes which you picked up by studying overseas. These are sometimes referred to as "covert competencies" because one often remains unaware of such adaptations until others comment upon the behavior. The next section will give you a chance to assess and contemplate what kinds of culture learning occurred while you were abroad and how these skills might serve you well in future employment.