When I came back home from my five-month high school student exchange to Australia, so much seemed different yet so much seemed unchanged. Standing in the kitchen of my parent’s house months after being back, my eyes filled with tears when I heard Lorde’s song Royals on the radio for the first time in Canada.
My Australian best friend and I had sang along to that song on our way to school in a country on the other side of the world not long ago.
Now, almost three years later, I am a journalism student at Algonquin College who is dying to study abroad again and I still miss my Australian family and friends every day.
I have recently submitted an inquiry to the degree pathways department of Algonquin, after over 400 students and I attended the school’s first Degree Pathways and International Opportunities Fair on Nov. 12. Once again, I have started the process of returning to Australia to study.
Since I’ve been back, I like something is missing from my life – some form of experience rendering me independent and confident that I found during my exchange. I try to satisfy these needs with crazy adventures like tree planting, spring break and random trips I take on my own. But the truth is, being back home is not easy.
Unlike the classes and seminars you take before you leave to prepare yourself for your exchange, there is no course on what to expect when you come home. There are no classes with other exchange students on how to deal with the “after part” and missing your new family and friends. No culture “un-shock” seminar. So, how do you cope with all this? Am I the only one who struggles?
In Kim Berry’s experience as program manager for inbound and outbound Ottawa students with Student Travel Schools Canada, it can take a couple months for students to fit back into their lives in their home countries.
“It is hard because the person you leave as is not the person you come back as,” Berry says. “Your maturity level is a little higher than your peers sometimes when you come back.”
Unlike other countries, like Switzerland who have a big returnee brunch, STS Canada is lacking in the returnee department. It is something that they are working towards but for now if students find themselves struggling when they come home they will reach out to Berry.
She will invite returnee students to orientation sessions for future exchange students as well as let them know if any exchange students will be going to their schools so that they can help in any way. They’re also welcome to participate in organized trips around Canada with other exchange students.
Those trips were Italian exchange student, Stephano Perucca’s favourite part of his one year exchange to Canada. Besides our Canadian cuisine, which Perucca loved, his favourite part of Ottawa was skating on the Rideau Canal.
“Ottawa is a nice city, I really enjoyed the sites like the Parliament buildings,” Perucca says. “It was pretty cool being in the capital city and I really loved beaver tails.”
Perucca, just like Simon Bergeron, a business student who studies international management at the University of Ottawa, have both struggled with coming home after our amazing exchanges.
Bergeron has participated in two student exchanges, one while in high school to Austria and then another to Honk Kong through the University of Ottawa.
“You have a different perspective on so many things (when you come back),” Bergeron says. “It feels kind of weird, you’re like an outsider in your own home.”
Bergeron says he never really experienced a descent back into normality. Things never became what they were before but it took him almost a year before he felt completely comfortable again after his five-month student exchange to Austria in grade 11.
Now after recently coming back from a semester in Hong Kong, Bergeron found that there’s no more reintegration. He’s caught the travel bug, something that many exchange students get, and can’t wait to get back onto a plane – just like me.
My exchange to Australia was without a doubt the best time of my life. I wish I could go back – actually I wish I had never left. I am hopeful that I will be able to return next September 2016. Algonquin has an agreement with Griffith University in Australia’s Gold Coast. After completing my current journalism program, I could complete a Bachelor of Journalism in just a year and a half back in my second-home country.
The hardest part of my exchange was leaving. Saying goodbye to your family and friends in your home country is easy because you know they’ll all be there for you when you come back. But in a country on the other side of the world, saying goodbye was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do and when I got home things only got harder.
It took myself months to return back to normal, or as normal as I will ever be able to get back to after my experience.
Sarah Reside, an Ottawa student who participated in three student exchanges to France, sums up coming home perfectly.
“It’s a huge culture shock that you don’t expect because it’s your own country,” Reside says. “Everything seemed different when really it wasn’t them who was different it was me.”