What Happens After Working Overseas

Alana poses in front of Petronas Two Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Written by  March 12, 2014

After working abroad in Vietnam, Alana readjust to life at home.

In the most clichéd of terms, every adventure must come to an end. Whether the silent weeps of your bank account first signify your homecoming, a pre-scheduled return date, or the conclusion of a contract, returning home is inevitable.

My return date had been prescheduled, and outlined in my employment contract. February 1—the day that at first seemed so far off that it rarely bleeped on my radar but soon grew to be a constant (and looming) reminder of my adventure’s expiry date.

To a certain degree, coming home excited me. I would be reunited with my family, see friends that I had not spent time with in many moons and share stories with those I love of the times that forever changed me. But adjusting back to a bustling city with a temperature registering in the negatives has certainly been a difficult transition.

I remember a conversation I had in high school, with a teacher that had just accompanied 12 of my classmates and myself on a life-changing, month-long trip to Kenya. “You’ve got to develop your elevator conversation. Thirty seconds that entirely capsulate your time away, the things you did and saw and how they changed you. You have 30 seconds to share your story before you lose someone’s attention.”

I remember thinking, “Screw that. People will want to hear about every second. How could they not?” But alas, as my time back home stretched on, my elevator conversation had begun to take perfect shape, as I regaled others with a Cliff Notes recount of my experience. It became harder for me to understand, and as time passed questions about my trip began to fade and make way for my Canadian life.

As the years pass and that version of myself becomes but a distant shadow, I cannot help but think of things to tell her. ‘Surround yourself with the people that ask questions, like “How has this changed you?” and “Who did you meet?”’ I would tell her that while you may have to rehearse a conversation that highlights the most exciting, adventurous things you did, that in no way discredits the moments you spent building relationships, or the simple dinners that lead to hours of laughing. Document those moments, with photos, a journal entry or simple note in your iPhone as often as you can; remember them. Yes, those incredible moments in which you push your comfort levels, the ones which require that you test your fears (and leave them wanting) will provide you with memories to last a lifetime, but they alone do not change you, together with the simpler memories, they work in tandem to help you develop into who you will become.

As time moves on and you step into your next adventure (whether abroad or at home), these memories may not surface as often as before. And that’s fine. Reconnect to your experiences abroad by staying connected with people you met, worked with or travelled alongside. Technology has never been more accessible; use it to connect with the people that changed your life for the better.

Returning home can prove difficult and surreal. The everyday lives of those around you may not seem to have changed whatsoever, while you may feel so entirely different from the person that stepped onto that plane so many moons before. It is important to remember, however, that the things that happened to your friends and family while back home are as important to them, as you consider the important things that happened to you. You cannot discredit their experiences. And don’t begin to discredit your own experiences once home either.

The adventures that you experienced abroad can continue once home, and while they may not always hold the same degree of valour that was found in zip lining through a forest or belaying down a waterfall, the journeys you take once home will continue to shape the person you are. And that sounds pretty good to me.

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Published in Work Abroad Blogs
Alana Fata

Alana Fata is a recent International Development graduate, and is completing a IYIP (International Youth Internship Program) placement with the Lifestart Foundation. Originally from Toronto, she will spend six months working in Hoi An, a beautiful town in Vietnam.

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