After all the preparation and wait and stress you are in the new phase of the adventure!
Once you arrive there are a number of important things to do. Go through the checklist of this section carefully and make sure that you take care of all the administrative matters.
Take some time to familiarise yourself with your new campus and town/city. If the host institution has an orientation programme or society for international students join in as soon as possible. It is compulsory! You will soon know your way around and make new friends. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Be sure to get your learning agreement signed as soon as your course registration is completed and then return the signed learning agreement to your home coordinator.
The act of giving gifts is a very personal matter, and therefore a personal decision. Small, unique gifts (excluding biltong / dried meat) can, however, be a nice way to start a good relationship with your landlord, flat mate or host coordinator.
Jet lag is the result of travelling through time zones. Your body clock is “out of rhythm” because it is experiencing different times of day than the usual rhythm. Jet lag is different for each person and might take up to several days to go away.
Some common symptoms for jet lag is the following: headaches, fatigue, irregular sleep patterns, insomnia, disorientation, grogginess, irritability, mild depression, constipation or diarrhoea.
The best way to get rid of jet lag is to settle into a normal schedule of sleeping and eating. Your body will quickly adapt to the new rhythm. Relax and give your body time to adjust to the new environment. Boost your fluid intake by drinking enough water and refrain from eating too much junk food. Exercise regularly and if weather permits take in enough sunlight. Here are some more tips from Skyscanner.
Staying in touch with family and friends might seem obvious to you now, but once you start settling in and make new friends you might not be in contact so frequently. Make an appointment for a time and day that you will contact your family and friends or that they will contact you.
Skype is a wonderful and affordable way to stay in touch. You can even use it to phone to a landline by buying Skype credit. There are however many different options available, and many of the current messaging apps allow similar functionality. One thing I would recommend is to use an application that you and your parents are both using currently. Nothing is more frustrating than to try to teach someone to install a new app and using it for the first time, if you are tired and just have a 9-hour flight behind you. So for example if you are going to China, maybe it is a good idea to help your parents to set up WeChat beforehand and test it ones or twice before you leave.
The other side of staying in touch, is contacting family and friends TOO often. Part of the exchange is to challenge yourself and to establish a new support network. And the point of a study abroad experience is not to experience your home country via social media in a host country. One of the biggest benefits of study abroad is the personal challenges of being independent, finding coping mechanisms for challenging and difficult situations and building a new support network.
Reflecting on your experiences will enhance your overall learning and development. Keep a journal or blog – this forms part of your feedback “responsibilities”. Maybe starting a blog is not such a bad idea. For some inspiration see the following advice. WordPress.com provides the followings tips in terms of how to get started with a blog.
SU International would love to hear all about your exchange. Your exchange is also the ideal opportunity for fellow students to learn more and they might even be encouraged to also apply for an exchange.
This exchange will change you! You will learn more about yourself and other people than you thought possible. You will learn about other cultures in the most intimate of ways and your world views will be transformed.
Before you leave your host institution it is very important that you have all your affairs in order. Be sure to go through the checklist and make the necessary arrangements where necessary.
Inform your home coordinator when you will be back in South Africa and Stellenbosch. We look forward to welcome you back into the Stellenbosch community and share in your experience. Once you are back and the transcript from your host institution arrives in Stellenbosch, your credit transfer will be arranged.
If you are travelling before your return, use the section on country and travelling information to assist you with making travel arrangements. Use the resources and country information provided to familiarise yourself with some of the neighbouring countries and states.
Return Culture Shock, or making sense of things:
The initial return to South Africa and Stellenbosch is exciting. Family and friends want to hear about your experiences and see your photos, but after a while things will be back to normal. That is when return culture shock can set in. Return culture shock is what you experience when you return home and have to readjust to your own country. This is a difficult procedure for many people and is usually unanticipated.If you have trouble re-adjusting, the first thing to tell yourself is that this is completely normal. For some it is more difficult to re-adjust than it was to adapt to a foreign environment. Many students experience return culture shock without realising what is happening to them. Not being aware of what you are suffering just adds to your feeling of anxiety or depression.
You can prepare yourself by considering the following factors:
- Family and friends may show less interest in your stories and experiences than you expect. This may make you feel lonely, misunderstood, or unappreciated.
- If you are unhappy about your return home you may try to withdraw from or delay from re-establishing good relations with family and friends.
- You will no longer stand out in your surroundings. When you were a foreigner you may have attracted more interest and developed new friendships. Once you are home your friends will not find you so unusual.
- Being at home is not challenging and exciting in the way that life is in a foreign country where you were challenged to make a success of everything from food habits to behaviour, dress codes and language. There is a sense of achievement in having to stretch yourself to meet challenges in a foreign country. A sense of achievement or personal growth is not the same at home where you do not face so many challenges.
- You may miss foreign friends as well as the culture, the climate, the food and the language.
- Your hometown may not seem as glamorous, interesting or exciting as the cities or towns you visited or lived in while you were abroad.
The good news is that eventually most people do get used to being home. They stop longing to go back to where they were. They start focusing on the future at home. With the passage of time they develop a more balanced view of the pros and cons of both home and abroad and put their study abroad experience in a more realistic perspective. Once this happens, feelings of depression, dissatisfaction or stress tend to subside.
Here is a collection of stories of returning. In the beautiful film by Wes Anderson, The Darjeeling Limited , we see the importance of travelling and mourning. Sometimes we need to travel to take various detours to find where home (s) is.
Feature image by Sebastian Grochowitz: https://unsplash.com/search/arrival?photo=dtxbv4EaCvg