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How to cope with coming home from exchange: Adding a little bit of Korean Zen in my life

young woman at Korea University

Me at Korea University. (Private photo: Frederikke Viltoft Mygind)

After a very tumultuous journey, I made it home for Christmas. Due to the new virus mutation, Turkey decided to ban all flights to Denmark, which meant they canceled our second flight from Istanbul four hours before our first flight departed.

However, with quick google searches and a slightly raised voice with customer service, we managed to get ourselves and our 40 kg of check-in luggage to Berlin, and after 11 unexpected hours in the airport, we made it home to Copenhagen. It was very nice to be home again, see everyone and enjoy a lovely Christmas with my family. But what now?

How do you cope with coming home from the most thrilling four months of exploring a new culture with constant activities, sightseeing, friends, and restaurant visits? I don’t think there is one way to cope with coming home from exchange, but overall I think it is more about accepting that life won’t always be as exciting as it has been for the past four months and to appreciate how lucky I have been to have had an experience of a lifetime instead of focusing on the fact that it is over.

I have now been home for one week, and thinking back, my exchange stay at Korea University almost feels like a dream – I snapped my fingers and now I’m home again.

I remember thinking that four months seems a long time, but now I almost can’t believe I am home again. Nothing has changed at home, which on the one hand is lovely and very homely, and on the other hand is very strange. I also think that the current COVID situation has really put an emphasis on the ‘nothing has changed’ part, as basically, Denmark has been closed since I left in August.

So while I have experienced a very different educational system, explored, traveled to a new country and gone out partying, most of my friends have spent more time at home doing nothing than ever before. I think this makes the contrast between going on exchange and coming home bigger and more intense than ever before.

In these unprecedented times, there is, of course, not much else to do than to accept what is going on, but it is also very much a reminder of just how lucky I have been being able to go and live in such a bubble for the past months.

Young woman with mask in aireplan

It is so nice to wake up in my own bed next to my boyfriend, who I have missed immensely, and it is very nice to be able to talk to friends and family without having to calculate the eight-hour time difference. I finished all my courses in Korea, so I now have all of January off to relax and sort out my life, which I think is a very healthy transitional period.

Of course, I would have loved to travel to the neighboring countries when my stay ended but the current state of the world made it very difficult, which has left me with a nice period in between to find a job, sort out my clothes and rediscover my love for running (without a mask).

I have reflected on three main tips on how to cope with coming home from exchange that I myself will also try to follow.

Firstly

I think it is important to stay busy and spend as much time as possible with people close to you. According to the internet, post-travel depression is real and hits people hard. I do not think I have completely been hit but I do understand the sense of reserve culture shock and feeling a bit alienated from everything. The current COVID situation has, of course, made staying busy very difficult, which I also think makes the coping process more difficult. However, with today’s technology and long walks covering large distances, there are still plenty of opportunities to catch up with people and share all of your experiences and get the latest insight into their new knitting recipe or the cool puzzle that they have been working on for weeks.

Secondly

Sort out old habits and implement new ones. I have learned that I actually like studying at cafes, and that flow yoga might not be as boring as I have always made it out to be. I have written a long list of Netflix shows I would like to catch up on that I have saved for days exactly like these and I have a dream of implementing 10 minutes of meditation and regular long walks with audiobooks in my life. I know this is not revolutionary or very exciting, but it does allow for reflection and maybe a little bit of Korean Zen in my life. I have accepted that it is completely OK to feel a bit strange for a while and have decided to see it as a testament to just how amazing my trip really was – the longer it hurts, the more you cared, I guess.

Thirdly

Stay in touch with your exchange friends. Even though I have only been home for a week, I have told the story about when that guy thought sirup was hand sanitizer and got it all over him and tried to wash it off with even more sirup, or that time when my friend almost bought a painting thinking it was DKK 1,500 not DKK 20,000, but these stories are not as funny to everyone else. These stories are part of great memories that, I believe, can only be fully relived with the people who were there. So even though it might be difficult, and time differences and different communication platforms might be challenging, stay in touch with your exchange friends. I sincerely hope I will be able to because I have met the loveliest people from all over the world.

I have not yet fully escaped the post-exchange blues and I still wake up every day wondering where the blue sky is hiding and when the next adventure is coming, but underneath that, I’m also just really glad to be able to find a lot of comfort in my normal life. Although my exchange bubble burst, luckily my lovely real life and all the people I know is still there waiting for me.

After all, maybe it is not a question of how to cope with coming home from the exchange but more of a process of how to implement a little bit of that exchange spirit into your normal life.

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