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Returning Home: Adjusting to Life after Exchange

Have you just returned from a semester overseas feeling a bit of post-exchange-blues?

I know I am.

I’ve just spent six months abroad. Away from away from work, responsibilities, and expectations of friends and family. The freedom of non-graded pass marks allowing me to relax and actually get involved in societies, events and taking weekend trips away with friends.

I’ve found it pretty tough adjusting back to the life at home. The vast adjustment back to strict responsibilities and a different culture can quickly turn into a strain on your mental health, something that we should all be aware of as law students. I think it’s important not to discount this as merely ‘first world problems.’

After some reflection over the two months I’ve been back, I compiled a list of things that helped me deal with returning home in a positive way, without the extra mental strain.

1. Give yourself something positive to return to.

There may be something different that you can do to put a positive spin on your return, such as joining a society or visiting all the new café’s/bars/restaurants that have opened up in your city since you’ve been away.

For me, this was moving out of home. Although it was a nightmare sorting this out whilst overseas (would not recommend!); it has been so worth it.

My living out of home experience could continue and I felt that I hadn’t lost my newfound independence.

2. Talk to other returning students.

Your friends are likely to be interested in your trip but also won’t really understand the impact it may have had on you. It will be hard for them to empathise if you’re feeling miserable, as they might only recognise how lucky you are and how amazing your trip looked.

Therefore, I think it is important to converse with others who have also returned from exchange, to share your feelings and realise combat loneliness. You’re allowed to feel unsatisfied with life back home.

3. Ease back into Uni

I made the mistake of enrolling in tough core law units, after studying only arts units overseas. Diving straight back into thinking like a law student was tough and overwhelming. After a couple of weeks I switched things around, and ensured I was doing subjects which complemented each other, with good lecturers and tutors.

Be practical with your degree, which may limit the units you can take after exchange. However, take into account that you’re easing back into your home University and likely your legal studies. Take care of yourself and make sure you can handle your course load.

4. Look after your mental health

I felt extremely overwhelmed and stressed coming home; to Uni, clerkship applications and the pressure of maintain contact both with my old Australian and new foreign friends.

Stress can easily morph into bigger problems, and it’s extremely important to be aware of symptoms. Don’t be afraid to seek help if you need it, whether this is from your law school counsellor, doctor or psychologist. It’s not ‘lame’ or uncommon to be feeling down since coming home. Exchange offered a life that was too good to be true yet so temporary.

Don’t be worried about exchange. It is fantastic and worthwhile. However, mental health and triggers of stress, depression and anxiety is important to talk about. Especially for law students who are constantly surrounded by a high pressure environment.

Take care of yourself and hang in there. No-one is alone and it will get better. Your next holiday isn’t too far away!

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