As the semester winds down and University of Wisconsin students who have been studying abroad begin to make their way home and readjust, jet lag will not be the only setback they face upon arrival home.

Study abroad programs are sure to warn students of the culture shock they will experience as they travel from one environment to the next, but UW travelers Ben Smith and Evan Petkov explain the less anticipated “study abroad hangover” that sets in when the semester comes to an end.

“For me, the biggest adjustment was returning from the laid-back lifestyle and laissez-faire approach to education and having to jump back into the UW-Madison way of life,” Petkov, a UW junior who returned from Galway, Ireland in December, said.

Most students abroad spend their weekends traveling from country to country, to make the most of the relatively short period of time they have the opportunity to do so, Petkov said.

Smith, a UW junior who returned to campus this past week from a semester in Galway, Ireland said the first thing he noticed was that people were far less willing to engage in casual conversation with strangers.

“They warned us that traveling abroad may change your perception of home, but I wasn’t sure what to expect,” Petkov said. “All in all, I wouldn’t say the change is good or bad but you definitely do come back with a different perspective.”

Oftentimes students turn to blogs and photos to share their experience with others back home, but this makes their memories and stories vulnerable to the critique of an audience back home, Smith said.

Both Smith and Petkov said they agreed it is important to keep in mind that traveling is a unique, special experience and seeking social validation is often what gives rise to the ‘study abroad hangover.’

“You’re in such a privileged position to be traveling in the first place,” Smith said. “I try not to share stories with people unless they ask.”

For the most part, Smith and Petkov said living in another country made them appreciate the resources and education they have back home.

Ben Smith

While the laid-back approach to education Petkov experienced in Europe was a nice vacation, he said the wide breadth of educational opportunities at UW are unrivaled.

“You definitely appreciate how good of an education you’re getting here,” Petkov said. “There are so many resources at UW that aren’t available other places.”

Even traveling to Ireland, a developed, English-speaking country, made Smith realize people in the U.S. are accustomed to a certain lifestyle. Until they go elsewhere and experience a different culture where basic necessities are not as easily accessible as they are at home, they take that for granted, he said.

The transition of studying abroad affects everyone differently, but it is all a matter of time before returning students reach a cultural balance, Petkov said.

“The best way to cure your study abroad hangover is much like dealing with any other hangover,” Petkov said. “Have a nice homemade meal, maybe mom’s famous cookies and give it some time.”

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