Post-Exchange Depression

Post-Exchange Depression

I wrote this post initially in Spanish and it turned out to be one of the most successful posts I’ve written so far, after the Breaking Bad business model. So I thought it would be awesome to share the content in English as well.

I guess that depression is a common thing among people, though not frequently commented. Whether having suffered from a real depression or not –by real, I mean taking pills to boost your serotonin hormones– we can all relate from those home-sick or nostalgic feelings when we recall good periods of time.

And looking back in pictures makes it even harder -specially nowadays with Facebook-. So if you’re one of these who have been on an Exchange program, I hope you enjoy this post as much as the Spanish folks did ;)

Post-exchange depression is increasingly becoming more popular among Spain population: it’s the country that sends and receives more students. So this is getting serious… because by 2014 and 2020 there will be approximately 5 million Spanish students doing an Exchange program. Only the most pessimist forecasts would reduce this amount to a 20%.

In France, this has already been recognized as a psychological mismatch. Spain started to wonder whether to recognize it or not in 2009. They wanted to call it “repatriation syndrome”. I think this is a very important topic due the large amount of students that can suffer from it, and yet there is not enough information on the Internet. I even had to scroll to the 2nd page in Google.

Maybe we do not think from the beginning how can an Exchange program impact to our lives once the adventure is over and we come back home. We must not lose sight of the fact that we’re going to live a unique experience during the Exchange program.

Separating from the family –for some, will be the first time– is a challenge on its own. Taking classes in another language and communicate to people 24/7 with a different language –at least for European students, the impact is higher in language rather than the US students, who take classes in English– can be overwhelming at first.

Some people suffer from the very beginning because they fear not being able to adapt to this new place. Until now, they had a routine with similar habits and the same people –i.e. friends and family– the same dinner night with the TV on…

Once you break this cycle or change it, the experience is revealing.

Everything you’ve learned and experienced so far will only remain in your thoughts. And you’ll feel as if you need to share this information to those people who have lived the same experience as you. Because no one else will understand this feeling the same way you do. No one will better understand the feeling as ‘going back home’ as the other students who you shared the experience with.

Some of the symptoms that students feel, once they go back to their country, is the mismatch and de-identification with the environment back home. You feel foreign in your own place, because you see that everything has changed while you were out. You feel a certain difficulty to communicate with your friends and family, because it’s kind of difficult to get the same feeling as before with them.

Regarding the studies… you loose interest. Whether it’s because the classes were awesome there or the teachers during your Exchange were great people. With a broader perspective, you feel as if you learned more during these 4 – 5 months of Exchange rather than your whole degree at your home University.

As a consequence of this behavior, we tend to idealize the foreign country. We want to go back to that perfect place where we were totally happy. Because back home there’s only a big black boredom hole painted in our bedroom’s wall.

So if you feel like this and have some of those symptoms, keep reading to know what you can do after you go back to your home country. Or at least, send this post to people who is currently in their Exchange program, so that they can go back home prepared for the terrible sadness feeling they’ll probably feel –and at least we diminish some of their suffering–

  • Have minimum hopes. Keep your expectations low when you come back. It’s like waking up. Until now, you’ve been living an ‘asleep’ live following the same routine and once you started your Exchange program you discovered the thousands of possibilities you can do with your life.
  • Do one last effort. In your Exchange program, the most difficult thing that you’ll probably learn is to use the public transport and get to the right place without getting lost. Because you won’t study at all. At least this is more likely to happen. So when you’re back home: work hard. You’ve already invested years and money on your college. Think that it’s the last effort you have to put until college is done. Then you can learn in other ways that college doesn’t allow you to ;)
  • Socialize with the people back home, but don’t loose touch with the people from your Exchange. You can build life-long friendships and that means: free hosting when you visit them and great skype calls sessions.
  • The memory is beautiful, but don’t become a slave of it. You have to live your life and your present.
  • Don’t compare. Above all, do not compare places you’ve been with your local city. Not even the people or the lifestyle. Everything is different and has its own ‘know-how’. Adapt and live the present, with the least rants possible ;)

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For this possible reason of experimenting depression: don’t avoid the experience. On contrary: it’s better living it and facing it with courage. While being young, we adapt better and we are more tolerant about our environment. Our personality it’s not yet fully shaped. Thus, we are flexible and receptive.

So make the step and enjoy your exchange program. Adapt once you’re there, and once you come back home: don’t become a slave in of your past. Face it and lead the situation with serenity and calm. You’ll be prepared to work in an international environment or at least to live in your own apartment ;)