There’s something nobody tells you about before you take off on your first big trip overseas. I think that’s because most of us who have experienced it still struggle to put it into words, or to even fully comprehend what happened to us. And after some time has passed, we forget about it entirely. But the truth is, returning home after teaching abroad is hard. It’s worse for those who travel to cultures vastly different from their own, but it’s still true for Americans who venture to Australia, for example.
The good news? It’s still entirely worth it.
Here are five ugly truths about returning home after teaching abroad.
1. You will be different.
It’s in our business motto and one of the reasons Teach English: ESL started, and that’s the simple fact that it’s nearly impossible to immerse yourself in a foreign culture the way teaching English abroad requires you to do, and to NOT come back changed. You’ll be different in ways you haven’t yet realized were possible. You’ll be more interested in new foods, other cultures, varied languages. You’ll find yourself wanting to talk to the foreigners in your hometown because you can relate to them now. You might think differently than you did before about waste, or recycling or education in general. You will feel a little out of place because even though you’re American or British or Australian or whatever by birth and at heart, you’re now a citizen of the world.
2. The world back home will feel like it was on pause.
When you return home after teaching abroad for five or six or twelve months, you’ll expect your old town and the people in it to be as different as you are. But they won’t be. The truth is that what you’ve managed to see and do in your time abroad feels like a time warp to those back home. The daily grind still exists. People still go to work and come home and watch television and talk about what the neighbors’ latest gossip is. When Grandma asks briefly about your trip and then delves into all the things she managed to accomplish that day (cooking, cleaning, caring for Grandpa), you’ll want to scream and shout and talk about something more meaningful. But back home, today is just another ordinary day.
3. Nobody will understand what you’ve been through.
You’ve seen 3, 4, 5+ countries and varied cultures. You’ve learned parts of their language. You’ve eaten strange and exciting things, taken unforgettable excursions and taught English to classrooms full of foreign students. It wasn’t just a trip; it was a life-changing experience. But those who haven’t done anything like it before will struggle to understand, they’ll have a hard time knowing which questions to ask, and a difficult time listening to the ongoing stories. You’ll want to make them understand, but the only way to fully comprehend is to live it, like you’ve done.
4. You’ll want to leave again.
The frustration of all of the above will leave you yearning for the airport and the next departure to anywhere. The monotony of each day will have you missing the daily unknown. You’ll start researching new jobs in other countries, and you might even accept one. Sometimes we come back before we’re truly ready, and it’s perfectly okay to leave again. Other times, we know we’re ready, and we just need to give it time.
With enough time, you’ll notice these ugly truths will dissipate, and you’ll acclimate to life back home just as you had before. With any luck, you’ll keep the best parts of your changed self, and convince a few others to teach English abroad so they can come back changed for the better, too.