From Fiesta to Formula Sheets: Adjusting to the Workplace Post Study Abroad

The thrill of studying abroad is hard to beat. Being in a foreign environment constantly keeps the brain active—it has been five months of exploring; taking in culture, language, and delicious food—and you miss it so much that it is sometimes hard to focus (this article explains it pretty well).

All of the positive changes that coincide with living in a different country also come with some negative side effects (which are often unexpected because, well, who reads the fine print?). Thus, there is no doubt that your new found travel bug is making you itch to escape your cubicle.

Here are some simple tips to keep you active and enthusiastic about your work while trying to adjust back to the United States frame of mind.

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Be creative! Design your space in a way that makes you excited to go to work.

1) The first and most important thing to do in avoiding PTSAD (Post Traumatic Study Abroad Disorder) is to find adventure no matter where you are. Revamp the ordinary. Remodel bland. Make yourself known. Maybe decorate your desk, or pack yourself exotic foods for lunch, or add fun themes to Casual Fridays.

Personally, I added an exercise ball to my workspace. Rather than being stationary in a regular office chair all day, the exercise ball keeps me moving and my blood pumping, keeping my brain active and ready for the workload that lies ahead.Get creative with how you want your workspace to look; considering the amount of time you spend in the office every day, it really becomes your second home. On the right are some examples of extraordinary cubicle décor if you are looking for some inspiration.

2) It’s all about attitude.Keeping a positive attitude shows that you appreciate the great opportunities of right now, rather than dwelling on the things you had in the past overseas. Sometimes, all it takes is a smile.When we smile, the muscle memory of this action triggers receptors in our brains that stimulate a feeling of happiness. This phenomenon falls under the facial feedback hypothesis, and was tested by Strack, Martin, and Stepper in 1988.

They created a study testing two groups: one group was instructed to hold a pen in their mouths in a way that caused a frown, and the others held the pen in their mouths horizontally, forcing a smile. Then, both groups were asked to rate cartoons based on how funny they felt they were. The results show that the smiling group consistently found the cartoons to be funnier, indicating that the action of smiling in itself changed the way people perceived the stimuli. This idea can be easily applied to how we experience our work.

3) Use your new perspective to your advantage.Try to apply what you’ve learned to whatever it is that is giving you trouble in the office. The purpose of living abroad is to gain perspective, learn about yourself, and broaden your horizons, so you might as well put all of that newfound knowledge to good use. Make it a personal goal to prove to yourself (and your employer) that you have grown intellectually and extrovertly.  This could be applied to money conservation techniques, confidence in your presentations, extracurricular involvement, intra-office leadership skills, and more.

As Robert Tew once said, “Challenge yourself every day to do better and be better. Remember, growth starts with a decision to move beyond your present circumstances.” And as Hannah Montana once said, “Life’s what you make it, so let’s make it rock.”

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