For all of you who are returning home from an AFS exchange this week (or last week or next week—you get the picture), most of you will find it a tough emotional experience. Most likely the last week of your exchange was spent saying good-bye, and left you torn between wanting to see your natural families, whom you haven’t seen in many months, and staying with your new family. The one who
put up with all your shenanigans welcomed you into their homes and made you part of their family. These good-byes are made so much harder because you don’t know when you’ll be back to visit. I know this to be true, because I haven’t been back.
So now you’re home. The first few days will probably be great. You’ll hug your dad, kiss your mom, be welcomed wholeheartedly by friends. They’ll want to hear the stories about your “trip.” You’ll take out your photos and they will be interested. You’ll get your favorite meal; everyone will take time to hang out with you.
After your home for a week (maybe longer, maybe shorter), the honeymoon period will end. People will be tired of hearing about Switzerland, Germany, Paraguay…Classmates, family and friends will want to talk about prom, graduation and parties—and you, well you’ll have nothing to contribute to these conversations. And you’ll start to feel a little left out.
I remember my mother told me “If Paraguay’s so great, why don’t you go back?” I tell people this story and they think my mom was being a little too harsh, but I think back on it, I understand. Let me give you some insight. You’re back in the states, you relive your exchange in memories. Which memories are you going to recall? The “bad, horrible, no one understands me, I want to go home” moments? I don’t think so. Mostly you’re going to tell people about the “amazing, wonderful, why don’t they do this back home moments.” Especially since by the end of your exchange the “ amazing, wonderful, why don’t they do this back home moments” are the most common and the bad days are few and far between. So when you’re telling your stories, and mom gets a little upset—remember to remind her that she hasn’t been replaced and home is still, well your first home—you just have a second one now too.
So how do you cope? Well you just do (Gee Tracy, thanks for the great advice). For those of you going off to college this is a little easier than it is for those of you staying at home. Those staying at home generally find themselves expected to fall back into the role they left. Clearly you haven’t changed THAT much?! (you can laugh with me here). For those of you moving away, your new you can continue to be that person without struggling against expectations. But you still will miss your newly acquired family and friends. Keep in touch—make plans to go back. You can never again travel as you can in college—DO IT! Go back. This is the biggest regret of my life. Sure I traveled, but never back to my Paraguayan family. So make up for my life. Communication has never been easier than it is now. Use Facebook, email, Skype, and stay in touch.
Volunteer with AFS. I’m not just saying this because we can use the volunteers (well kinda I am), but because you will never find a group of people that you fit in with, that understand you like you will with AFS. We Returnees bond faster than any group I know. We will accept you. IF you’re going off to college, see if your local area team can help you find the area team near your college—or message me. I’ll help. This AFS crowd will always listen to your stories or look at your pictures—as long as you return the favor. It doesn’t matter if you went on exchange in the 60s, the 90s or are just getting back, we will always tell a willing audience our story. AFS can always use young Returnees to go to high schools and talk to
captive audiences students interested in going on exchange. Work with middle schools and elementary schools to give presentations on your country to the class studying that very topic.
So, welcome back! You survived the first months of exchange. Use that fortitude and perseverance to forge the new path as the new you. Use that determination and independence to struggle through the homesickness…get involved and stay in touch.
You are now a new member of and elite group. You are an AFS RETURNEE! Welcome back and Congratulations. I look forward to your stories. Where did you go? Where are you returning to? What is the best advice you’ve received.