Traveling has always been a passion of mine. I have daydreamed about going abroad since high school. It became a reality after my parents moved to Okinawa. Then I had the opportunity to study in Chile for a semester. But I will admit I have never thought about the re-entry process and how to re-adjust to life after being abroad. Many of us may feel alone because we do not have anyone to share our story of being abroad with. Traveling can change your perspective of globalism and change who you are as a person. There are many re-entry conferences throughout the U.S. These conferences makes it easier to find like minded people.
I attended a re-entry luncheon with my university. They offered us advice on how to use our newfound skills when job searching. Although they gave great advice on how to land a job I still felt distant. That’s when I decided to enter a drawing to win free tickets to the re-entry conference in Greensboro. I was able to be part of a larger and more diverse community of people who have been abroad. I told my story of being a woman and black abroad and the challenges I faced.
As you can imagine, I am full of travel stories and decided to share them with my friend Cate Brubaker. About a year ago, I met Cate at the re-entry conference in Greensboro and she shared with me her passion of travel and re-entry. This is our Q&A interview below.
HI BRIANNA! WHERE WERE YOU ABROAD AND WHAT DID YOU DO THERE?
I had the opportunity to frequently visit my parents in Okinawa, Japan over the course of two and a half years. While visiting my parents, I would engage with the local community by eating at their Mom and Pop shops, exploring their traditions and cultures, and taking tours of historical landscapes.
In addition to traveling to Japan, I studied abroad for a semester in Valparaiso and Vina del Mar, Chile. While in Chile, I volunteered with many different nonprofit organizations. I felt the need to give back to the country that had taught me to dance Salsa, to make Completos (which is a hot dog with tomatoes, avocado and mayo oozing on top), and taught English to university and elementary-aged students.
I also volunteered with Techo, a nonprofit similar to Habitat for Humanity. As a volunteer I had the opportunity to sleep and work in the hottest, driest desert in the world, El Atacama. Another nonprofit I volunteered with as an English tutor and a surf guru was Valpo Surf Project. With this nonprofit I learned how to surf and taught surfing in the freezing waters of Con Con.
WHEN DID THE IDEA OF RE-ENTRY GET ON YOUR RADAR? DID YOU HAVE ANY RE-ENTRY PREPARATION, TRAINING OR DEBRIEFING?
As a child of a Marine, I have constantly moved every two to four years. At this point in time, I knew how to re-enter my “home” society – or at least I thought I did. When I was in Japan, I fell in love with its beauty and its people’s culture. But, after returning to the United States I readjusted quickly. I cannot say the same occurred when I arrived “home” from Chile.
I have had thoughts of returning to Chile since the day I left. Unlike in Japan, I became friends with the locals in Chile and we created many memories. While volunteering with Techo, I met my hermanita (sister in Spanish) Francisca. We had an instantaneous connection. Although my Spanish was intermediate she took the time to explain everyday situations to me and helped me practice my Spanish. Over the course of my remaining two months we frequently travelled to other places in Chile including Concepcion and Los Angeles, two cities in the south of Chile, and Papudo, a city where the sea and land meet – or at least that is what I coined it.
The idea of re-entry occurred to me when my university’s study abroad office offered a re-entry program for those returning from studying abroad. I decided to go and learn about how I can use my experience of studying abroad in the workforce, on my resume, and in interviews. I enjoyed participating because it prepared me for and helped me get over reverse culture shock.
WHAT WAS YOUR RE-ENTRY EXPERIENCE LIKE?
The day I re-entered the U.S. my friend and I went to a fast food restaurant. When I attempted to order I said, “Yo quiero…” this is how you order food at restaurants in Spanish. I had forgotten how to speak English because I was constantly speaking Spanish to my friends and host family in Chile. I was embarrassed and nervous that I would not remember my native language. It did take a while to transition but it was a successful one. I surrounded myself with my extended family and frequently ate at Mexican restaurants. At those restaurants I would practice Spanish with the waiter or the owner.
WHAT DO YOU KNOW *NOW* ABOUT RE-ENTRY THAT YOU WISH YOU’D KNOWN EARLIER?
I wish I would have known about reverse culture shock before returning. I was a little shocked by some of the social etiquettes we have in the South. For example, I eat with a fork and knife at every meal, a technique I thought was observed for the Europeans or at fancy restaurants. I am also more direct with requests and in speaking with others in lieu of “beating around the bush”.
WHAT TIPS DO YOU HAVE FOR OTHERS WHO ARE ABOUT TO GO THROUGH RE-ENTRY?
Here are tips I have for those who are re-entering the U.S.:
- Continue to practice your language skill if you gained one.
- Be engaged with your local global community.
- Find others who have similar experiences to talk about them with. Most people find it difficult to talk to their friends or family because they have changed while others may have remained the same.
- Become a source of information for others interested in going abroad
- Use what you learned abroad and apply it to your everyday life.
AND… JUST FOR FUN: IF RE-ENTRY WERE A FOOD WHAT WOULD IT BE? WHY?
If reentry was a food it would be a tart. Tarts are bitter to the taste, but sweet in the end.
Here is the link to my interview and Cate’s website if you are interested in learning more about re-entry and Small Planet Studio.