Home Sweet Home – Life After Exchange

By Chelsea Dolan, 4th year Student in Journalism, FCAD

Landing back home in Canada at Pearson Airport felt strange, in the sense that it felt like I never left home in the first place. For the past five months I lived in Europe, constantly experiencing new cultures and cities, with each day being so spontaneously different— yet everything at home remained exactly the same.

During my winter semester of third year, I was lucky enough to live in Utrecht, Netherlands as an exchange student. I was enrolled in the European Culture & Journalism program, which was something I had been planning on applying to since coming to Ryerson. Funny enough, when I landed at Schiphol Airport in January I didn’t feel nervous, shocked or out of place— I felt comfortable.

It didn’t take long to adjust to my new way of life. Going from being a full-time commuter student living at home, to living with 11 housemates in a student apartment was a big change.

But I couldn’t have loved it any more than I did.

I was warned about culture shock and the toll it can have on students when they visit a new place but for me, that never happened. I thrived in my new surroundings and was so happy nerves didn’t get the best of me when I moved away.

I’m not sure if what I experienced when I landed at home was reverse culture shock, or if it was just sadness about my incredible time in Europe being over. I loved seeing my family, living back in my home and of course seeing my cats again.

Everything was the same as it was when I left it, except now I was different.

Since coming back home from an enriching and crazy experience, I felt different and learned more about the world than I ever could have while being at home. Of course while all this was happening, home was still home and it didn’t change.

I guess when I thought about reverse culture shock, I expected it to mean having a tough time transitioning back into “real life.” That wasn’t the case, since my life just picked up where I left off prior to leaving. Reality had struck again— travel plans I had grown so used to making for upcoming weekends turned into scheduled eight-hour shifts working at my local grocery store. Getting to class on my 10-minute bike ride was now an hour GO Train ride to Toronto’s Union Station. “Expect the unexpected” was no longer my mentality, since schedules and routine were once again adapted in my Canadian lifestyle.

The biggest shock coming home was managing to readjust my newfound experiences back into my normal life. I’ve had to figure out how to merge the new life lessons, memories and relationships I made and not lose them in the repetitive routine of my regular life. While I love the comfort of my Canadian home, I don’t want to lose the energy and curiosity that had taken over me when I was away. It’s a lesson I’m happy to have learned. Whether it’s backpacking across Italy or being stuck in traffic on the way home from work, no one should ever lose that desire to be adventurous or spontaneous – and that’s something I’m continuing to do today.

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