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Coming Back From Exchange: The Good, The Bad and Everything In-between

Munich residents relax by a river in the English Garden, Europe's largest city park. Pierre Rippoll

Returning to Montreal from my exchange in Germany has meant excitement, anxiety and readjustment. 

Let’s start with the good part about coming back (AKA the “honeymoon” phase).

My first week back was a blast. I got to see my long-missed friends and family. I came back to a culture I deeply understand and feel very comfortable in. I was able to speak in my mother tongue and express myself seamlessly. I felt completely part of society and it was a relief not constantly second-guessing my social skills. I was able to visit all my old haunts and eateries.

I was actually not expecting to enjoy coming back, so I was really surprised by my own enthusiasm. I was expecting to immediately miss all the friends I had made in Germany as well as my relaxed, fun lifestyle. But hey, I wasn’t complaining.

I was amused by the novel remnants of German culture that remained ingrained in me. I was so surprised when all restaurants accepted card payment (it felt like such a blessing!). I kept forgetting that taxes were added on the price afterwards when paying at the cash. I kept naming prices in euros instead of dollars.

Cheeky, right?

But then, out of the blue, came frustration and anxiety (the bad).

To my surprise, I was having trouble coping with Montréal's work culture. I felt intense resentment and anxiety towards our working style—I felt like I was surrounded by a bunch of hyper-productive, competitive workaholics. Obviously, this is an exaggeration and this judgment was tinged by my own anxiety. However, I was not totally wrong.

North American urban society is definitely more centred around work and productivity than European society. I definitely felt the pace of life accelerate when I came back to Canada.

Even though everyone around me (or at least in my circle of friends) is living that #hustle life, I want to maintain a more healthy and holistic balance.

People just talk a lot more about their work and how busy they are here. Of course, people also work hard in Germany. Our European counterparts aren’t just having fun all day. But after my initial excitement about coming back home faded away, I felt this overwhelming change in atmosphere, especially with regards to work. You may call this reverse culture shock.

If I take a moment to step back, however, I realize my anxiety was definitely at least partially due to the return to “real life.” Of course I felt a lot less stressed about performance and work in Germany seeing as I was on exchange, and the ultimate goal was to discover another culture.

I missed the slower pace of life I experienced in Munich, where most evenings people strolled the streets, sipped beers in cafes or ate together in the park. I missed people biking around everywhere, in no particular rush.

Now, I’ve sort of adapted.

After all, Montreal is my home. It’s what I know.

But after a year in Germany, I now also know something else.

I'm now living in between Germany and Canada—adjustment and acceptance

A little bit of Germany will always stay with me. My experience has changed the way I view the world, even if only slightly, and the way I choose to live life. 

Even though everyone around me (or at least in my circle of friends) is living that #hustle life, I want to maintain a more healthy and holistic balance. I feel a lot of pressure to perform: to participate in a thousand extracurriculars, to get relevant work experience, to keep busy at all times. But I’m trying not to cave into it.

In fact, letting myself live, breathe and relax is the difficult thing for me to do. Germany taught me how to do this and I will hold on to it. Or, at least, try my very best to do so. 

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Published in Study Abroad Blogs
Maya Lach-Aidelbaum

Maya Lach-Aidelbaum is currently studying abroad at Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich, Germany. In Montreal, she majors in journalism and minors in women’s studies at Concordia University. She is an avid traveller and speaks English, French and German.

Website: https://www.instagram.com/maya.lach/

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