When I signed up to study abroad for six weeks in Ghana, I felt that I had a decent grasp on what I was going to get out of the experience. I would meet new people, gain a deeper appreciation for another culture, and get some credits out of the way. While all of those things certainly happened, there were some aspects of studying abroad that nobody really talks about. More specifically, nobody talks about what it’s like when you return.
The end of my trip didn’t really hit until my last flight landed in Grand Rapids. As soon as the plane touched the ground, I started crying and didn’t stop until I left the airport. It was really difficult to explain to my family why I was crying, they had assumed it was just because I was happy to be home. Don’t get me wrong, I was really excited to be home. I had missed my friends and family, as well as hot showers and driving my car. However, this was an emotion that I couldn’t and still can’t completely describe. I quickly became frustrated with how difficult it was to explain my experience to friends and family. Even now, I’m struggling to write this post in a way that I feel accurately depicts how this trip has impacted me. Beyond my difficulties in verbalizing my experience, I have come across people who aren’t very accepting of the things I have learned. While almost everyone has been really supportive of my trip, I’ve had a few people tell me that couldn’t wrap my head around why I loved it so much. For some, I think it’s just something that you don’t understand unless you actually do it.
The other thing that I had to deal with upon arriving home was reverse culture shock. Reverse culture shock is exactly what it sounds like, a somewhat turbulent readjustment back into your own culture. For me, this showed itself in a few different ways. First, I felt bored and restless. My purpose felt kind of foggy and it took me a little while to feel like my brain was 100% back in the United States. I also really missed a lot of things about Ghana, especially the people. I had absolutely loved being surrounded by happy people all of the time during my six week stay. Even strangers said “good morning” and “how are you;” I ended up feeling kind of isolated once I had returned home.
While all of this sounds kind of negative, I am so grateful for it. These uncomfortable experiences have forced me to reflect a lot on some important concepts, both personal and universal. I can’t believe how much I have grown as a person not only during my trip but also since returning. While I may not be able to express all of these changes to others as well as I wish I could, I feel a lot more comfortable in my own skin and I would definitely recommend studying abroad to anyone who has questions about the world or themselves. I can’t promise that it will be all sunshine and rainbows, but that’s what makes it study abroad and not a vacation.
Maddi Miller is a junior in the Frederik Meijer Honors College majoring in math and minoring in general business and statistics. She enjoys the cooking channel, spicy foods, hanging out with her sorority sisters, and dancing like no one’s watching. For more insights on her study abroad trip, check out the blog posts on the Ghana Honors Study Abroad Facebook page.