Post-Travel Depression. The term sounds almost made up. I know this because I thought the same thing before returning from my Study Abroad Program. However, I now know it’s a very real thing because I’ve experienced it first-hand. I would even argue that the term Post-Travel Depression is more of a blanket one because Post-Study Abroad Depression seems to be five times worse as the immersion factor is often far greater. In the following paragraphs, I will provide you with a post-travel survival guide, but please do not allow the fear of post-travel depression nor fear of any other kind deter you from partaking in what could be one of the most amazing experiences of your life.
Post-Study Abroad Depression may not affect everyone in the same way, if it even affects them at all. Upon returning from our short stint in Mexico, some of the students were reveling at the thought of hot water, no mosquitoes, and a reliable internet connection while others, myself included, had been worried about missing the flight home. The most important thing to know is that you’re definitely not alone!
Identifying Post-Study Abroad Depression:
When I first returned to Arizona I was over the moon. I carried the childlike wonder I had developed abroad back to my hometown and enjoyed returning to my typical tasks with new fervor. Unfortunately, it didn’t last. After about a month, I began to feel unsatisfied with the life that had brought me every satisfaction prior to studying abroad. First, it came in waves of incredible loneliness and a lack of fulfillment, then developed into a constant state of desperation and sadness. I thought I was going crazy until I did a little research and realized that what I was going through was something very common and very real.
Although everyone experiences this depression differently, some common signs of Post-Study Abroad depression include: spending an abnormal amount of time researching ways to travel again, seclusion from friends and family, comparing absolutely everything to your study abroad experience, constantly talking about it, and even rapid weight loss or gain.
Post-Study Abroad depression is frequently overlooked as it’s not often officially diagnosed like bipolar disorder or postpartum depression, but it can be just as pervasive and just as dangerous if you don’t ask for help.
Adapt and Overcome:
Although there is no overnight cure for Post-Study Abroad depression, there are plenty of ways to manage it. Take time out of your day to pinpoint what it is that you miss so much about your experience abroad. Perhaps it’s the language you miss. Maybe it’s the culture and its people. It could even be the freedom that comes with participating in a study abroad program. Whatever it is, it’s important that you try to pursue things that can offer you a similar experience in your home country. Although it will likely prove difficult to isolate just a few things you miss from studying abroad, there’s often countless opportunities to experience other cultures in your own city that previously never occurred to you.
For me, the things I missed most about the Mexican Culture were the language, the dancing and the importance of family. I now attend salsa lessons and events almost every week, hired a personal Spanish tutor, and stay in constant contact with my friends from Mexico. Of course, there are still days when I miss the authenticity of actually being in Mexico, but I’m taking it one day at a time. For now, I am happiest when I am on the dance floor.
Another important step to take is research. Learn all you can about Post-Study Abroad Depression and seek out others who are going through the same thing. Talk to your instructors and your classmates from the trip and explain to your family and friends how you’re feeling. It’s likely that they will be receptive if you communicate, and it’s far better than isolating yourself. The key to overcoming your depression is learning to adapt and putting yourself in the position to enjoy life back home, knowing that enjoyment does not mean you’ll never travel again or revisit the country you fell in love with. After all, the most effective management plan for Post-Study Abroad depression is to travel again…and to do it often.
On the Road Again:
Figuring out how to travel abroad again is of the utmost importance if your depression persists, and there’s nothing wrong with satisfying your travel bug! Just like there are many opportunities to experience different cultures from home, there are countless opportunities that will enable you to return abroad. The important thing, however, is to be proactive in your pursuits and to remain busy in the meantime. Decide whether you’d prefer to go on a backpacking trip with friends or commit to a teaching career abroad. Get a job on a cruise ship during the summer, or become a study abroad counselor or guide. The possibilities are endless!
The lesson to be learned here is that life is meant to be an adventure, and studying abroad simply enables us all to come to that realization. In truth, traveling might not be for everyone, but I highly recommend studying abroad…even if is just once. Traveling teaches you things you can’t learn by remaining in your comfort zone. It opens your eyes as well as your mind. Humans are extremely adaptable creatures, and because travel often presents us with foreign and challenging situations, it offers boundless chances to grow and improve.
So, no, there’s not necessarily a cure-all for Post-Study Abroad depression, but it can be a valuable discovery for forging an exciting future rather than consistent dissatisfaction with your current situation. Use the knowledge wisely, and you’ll soon find your bliss…even if it is in an entirely different country!