Reverse culture shock, a broken heart, and incomplete research--what else could go wrong?
July 14, 2012 7:11 PM   Subscribe

How do I prepare and brace myself for readjustment to a place I hate after spending time abroad? Snowflake details plus poor-decision-driven extra concerns inside.

Long story short, I've spent the year in a fabulous place, in what is to me a familiar and beloved region of the world, and I've had a wonderful time here. This has probably been the first year of my life where I actually felt my life was worth living. Unfortunately, I will soon have to leave to complete my studies in my incredibly boring, stifling 'hometown', where my already-dysfunctional family, who I live with, is having even more issues than usual, and I'm dreading leaving to the extent that I've had a couple of anxiety attacks this week alone. I have no idea how to deal with this, except for planning what I realize are likely infeasible plans to return soon (flights here are prohibitively expensive).
To make matters worse, I got way too attached to what was supposed to be a fling, while at the same time I have a clingy boyfriend I need to properly dump as soon as I get home (but I've been too cowardly to do so). Due to a combination of distance/age and cultural difference/difference in attachment (I've fallen in love while I'm pretty sure he hasn't), there's a 99% chance this will end when I leave and I'm completely heartbroken and have no idea how to deal with this (first heartbreak, can you tell?).
I've also really messed up on the research I was supposed to be doing here and while my advisor seems to think I've done enough, I'm certain that I haven't and that he will hate me when I meet with him in the coming semester, and have no excuses beyond that I got a little out of control here and got too distracted by a guy I knew I had no future with to properly take care of my shit.
After typing all that out (sorry), I guess I have three broad, generic questions: how do I prepare to hate my life again and resign myself to living in a dull place for another year; how do I deal with heartbreak in general and attempt to move on with my life when I feel like nobody will ever want me again, and when I feel shitty about cheating; and how do I deal with being the worst advisee ever? I feel like I've grown up a ton and become more confident in general but have also screwed up enough for a lifetime in the past six months!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (10 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
So stay! get a new visa and start classes. Forget about the cost... try to study for nothing or stop studying until you figure out how to stay and work there.
posted by parmanparman at 7:19 PM on July 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

how do I prepare to hate my life again and resign myself to living in a dull place for another year;
One thing that has gotten me through this in very, very difficult situations was knowing that this was a means to get to where I wanted to go, but that it was not a means to an end.

Yes, it's highly advisable that you finish your degree but you don't have to be in your hometown, surrounded in a toxic environment forever.

You don't even have to go back now. You can arrange things so that you can stay in this new city where you feel like life is worth living.

While in this new city, consider getting therapy, please. Your framing is very pessimistic and this type of thinking will only get you so far.

Perseverance never came from thinking as a pessimist. Be an optimist looking through a practical lens.

These feelings that you are experiencing seem shitty (for a lack of a better word) but they are not permanent. You have the power to change your circumstances. Forgive yourself. We all make mistakes such as procrastinating, not putting our best effort into something, or cheating someone or something.

But, this isn't the only thing about YOU. This is just something that you have done. There are a lot of great ways that you can describe yourself as. There are a lot of kind things that you have done. Forgive yourself as I said and move forward with your life, ideally with the help of a therapist.

Good luck!
posted by livinglearning at 7:28 PM on July 14, 2012 [5 favorites]

I knew someone on my junior year abroad who had turned his junior year abroad into a year-and-a-half abroad, and his University was very accommodating about it. Go for it.
posted by ambrosia at 7:36 PM on July 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Hugs. You sound like you're fairly young and now's exactly the right time to be making mistakes like this--more people than you know have been in the place you are right now and everything turned out alright.

School: I guarantee you that your advisor has seen way shoddier or more incomplete research than yours. I know it sucks to disappoint someone but he has seen it before and will see it again. Don't make excuses for the whys, just figure out together how to salvage what you have done.

Love: This is a shitty lesson but a valuable one, and you should be glad you learned it now when the stakes are relatively low. Don't let dudes eff up your ability to get shit done, or otherwise distract you from your goals and priorities. Easier said than done, but it's going to be a perpetual balancing act and it's better if you learn the lesson now. Time and making exciting future plans for YOURSELF will help you heal your heartbreak. Sounds like now is a great time to make a clean break with your fling, break up with your boyfriend, and spend some time thinking about what you want and need. Call it Mission Awesome. Therapy can be great for this.

Place: If your only option is to return to your hometown, then use the time there to plan and execute Missions Awesome and Escape. Make a realistic and detailed plan for where you will move after leaving your hometown; look into career opportunities, learning opportunities, create a budget and start saving. Concurrently, enjoy spending time with yourself. Keep yourself busy, make friends, explore new parts of your hometown. Get a part time job whose entire proceeds you can pour into Mission Escape.

For better or worse, nothing is forever--you can do this. You aren't a terrible person, you just made some mistakes! So 'fess up if you need to, forgive yourself (truly--if you can't, therapy can help), and learn how to head off opportunities that encourage you to make similar mistakes in the future. We're rooting for you.
posted by stellaluna at 7:38 PM on July 14, 2012 [6 favorites]

Keep your eyes on the goal. You should look into alternatives, but if you find that you need to leave, go back to the dysfunctional family, and finish your degree, then just remember that this is in large part a means to an end. If your goal is to come back to this place, you certainly can do that. The flights may be expensive, but you can start saving for it tomorrow. Every little bit counts.

Heartache, frustration and some disappointment are perhaps inevitable in this situation. But, you are learning from that as well, and it sounds like you are at a point in life where learning is your main job. Keep telling yourself to keep your eyes on the goal, keep moving, and this too shall pass. You'll find a way to work it out.
posted by meinvt at 8:37 PM on July 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do not go back to live your dysfunctional family. Just don't.

Personally, I would pursue other options. Not knowing your exact situation, I can't make specific recommendations.

- It's likely you had a great but difficult year because you were (a) away from your dysfunctional family, (b) gave you more space to explore and make mistakes. I don't think this was all bad, it's kinda par for the course if you come from a dysfunctional upbringing. Get your emotional and maturity shit together NOW, don't let that go!
posted by jbenben at 9:58 PM on July 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

Realizing it might be prohibitively expensive to stay abroad, you might consider alternatives to your hometown that are still closer than out of the country. For instance, your home educational institution may either be a part of a larger system (say, a state university) that may have branches in a less boring town, or often smaller colleges have an associated network of similar colleges that have policies allowing for ease of transfers and exchange opportunities.

Not everyone will agree, I'm guessing, but can I suggest when you break up with your current that you do it as easy as you can--including not telling him about the cheating. You're going to be heartbroken about the fling no matter what, as the clingy type, boyfriend will be heartbroken no matter what. As far as I'm concerned, that's plenty of sadness for both of you deal with anyway. I am not convinced that confession is as redemptive as many people believe, particularly in the case of early 20s infidelities while on a life-changing trip abroad.
posted by ndfine at 10:03 PM on July 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh god, yes! Clingy bf was a product of your dysfunctional upbringing (as was abroad "withholding" attention guy, but that's for another time...) Do not not not tell clinging bf about the cheating. Ever.

Have you ever heard the term, "Cut bait"? When you are fishing, and your line gets horribly tangled or you accidentally hook a dangerous or too big animal - your cut the line and let it go - a/k/a "cut bait."

Cut bait on your dysfunctional family and bf at home and abroad. All 3 are not working for you.

The rest you can manage.
posted by jbenben at 10:39 PM on July 14, 2012

If nothing else, figure out how to move out from your family and into an apartment--either alone or with roommates. Dysfunctional family is 1000X easier to deal with even from a distance of just 2 or 3 miles. College-age apartment living with roommates can be pretty inexpensive and, for example, if you can live within walking or transit distance of school you might save quite a lot on transportation vs living with the family.
posted by flug at 11:18 PM on July 14, 2012

I can't really speak for any of this based on my personal experience, but I have read "Someday My Prince Will Come" by Jerramy Fine and she went through similar issues--always wanted to live in England and hated where she came from (the sticks). She didn't want to leave England when her semester abroad was up, and eventually found a way to go to grad school in England so she could stay, then went through several jobs/visas trying to stay in England after that. Reading that might help you deal with your feelings.

I don't know what country you're in, so I can't speak to how well that country will let you come back and what reasons they deem acceptable to allow you to return. But if you really want to go back there, start looking into what ways you could possibly be allowed back in to the country, and plan accordingly. You may have to suck it up in your home country for awhile until you finish your degree (most likely), but as other people said, worry about getting away from your relatives first.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:20 AM on July 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

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