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My mother is minimizing my study abroad experience


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I just got back to the states from studying abroad in Copenhagen. I was there almost 4 months. I'm home for the holidays and will be back abroad at the end of Jan. I had originally planned to stay only for the fall but decided to go back in the spring cuz I liked it so much. My mom was devastated but she is getting used to it I guess. We aren't talking about it now because we want to enjoy the holidays.


Well I was at first excited to come home but now I'm depressed. I feel jet lagged, disoriented and disconnected. I feel like I don't belong at home anymore, I'm an outsider. My home feels almost foreign to me and a bit overwhelming. In the dorm in Copenhagen I didn't have so much stuff like I do at home. My family is great but they smother me and don't let me do anything for myself. And nothing at home seems as exciting as Copenhagen. It's very slow and low-energy.


No one at home is even interested in my experiences. I mean, they are nice and wonderful to me. They keep saying how happy they are that I'm home. I'm happy to see them too but I'm far less excited than i thought I'd be after I initially reunited with everyone. I want to talk about my trip because it was life-changing and I will never be the same person. I want to talk about the Danish language and share some of the words I've picked up. Talking about it makes me feel better about the whole thing. It gives me an outlet. Yet my family doesn't seem to care and aren't interested. I have shown interest in what they've been up to. I sat and listened to my mother tell a whole story about how things have been at her job. I watched my brother as he led my grandparents through a workout he designed for them. But they don't ask me anything about my trip or don't seem to see how much it has changed me. If I bring it up, they change the subject. They expect me to go back to my old habits, some of which I broke out of while abroad and have no intentions of falling back on.


My mother is the worst. She keeps undermining my experiences abroad. Every time I make an observation about Copenhagen or the Danish culture, she has to say something like, "oh, it's like that in Chicago, too" or "Yup, people in Chicago do that, too." She grew up in Chicago and moved to the eastern US in 1974, when she was 17. She has NOT been back to Chicago since 1974. She's in her 50s now. That's a LONG time. She has NEVER been to Europe. She hasn't travelled much at all. And yet she keeps saying stuff like she wouldn't have had a hard time adjusting to Copenhagen since she's from Chicago, whereas I had a harder time since I came from the "southern hospitality" zone of the US. So she found a way to criticize me even through this. And how does she know how fast she'll adjust to a foreign culture when she hasn't even been there? There are certain things about Danish culture that I can't explain to her, stuff where you have to have been there to understand.


I mean, yes, Chicago and Copenhagen are both cities and so they will have some similarities. But my mom can't seem to understand that Chicago is an AMERICAN city and it's not Copenhagen. I was in Chicago in 2007 and it is NOT Copenhagen. The culture is different, the feel is different, and the people are different. Why can't she just admit that fact? Why does she have to act like an "expert" on Copenhagen and Denmark and what it is like when she hasn't even been there and can't compare it? She won't simply listen to what I have to say. Instead, it's like she wants to say "been there, done that," when she hasn't even lived anywhere else but our town in southern US since 1974. I was in Denmark for almost 4 months AND I've been to Chicago LAST year, so I think I am in a slightly better position to make a comparison!


When I made an observation about the US in comparison to Denmark based on my seeing it from "foreign" eyes, she says, "well you've only lived in our town all your life so you can't say." True, I have, but other American students have made the same observations as me. (Unfortunately I didn't say that to her and I wish I did, but it didn't come to mind at the time).


I don't get it because my mother is normally a very smart, intellectual and observant person. She's a teacher. She's had kids in her class from a variety of different countries (not Denmark, lol) and as a result works international stuff into the curriculum. So I don't get why she always minimalizes my experience abroad and doesn't just simply say, "oh, yes, I see" when I make observations of the Danish culture. Nooo, instead she has to make judgments about how she knows it all. She wasn't even there!


I have gained greater independence, done well academically, gained greater interest in life, learned about myself, built confidence, survived in a foreign country! PLUS I am paying for this trip all on my own (with government loans of course but I will be paying it back). My mother doesn't recognize this.


I know this is long and I apologize. But it's driving me crazy. Anyone have any insights and know how I can deal? I didn't want to engage her in an argument because it's Christmas and I want our time together to be positive. I'm already counting the days til I go back to Copenhagen. I thought I'd enjoy being back at home but as it stands now, I'm confused. I felt like a foreigner in Copenhagen. And now I feel like a foreigner at home. I don't belong anywhere! I'm in a limbo between 2 places. I no longer have a "home" so to speak.


I'm not looking for heaps of praise or worship or anything like that. I'm not looking to tell story after story after story about my trip. I just want to talk about it with someone and I just wish that someone was around at home who can understand and acknowledge what I am going through. My brother studied abroad a few years ago and so I'm sure he knows to some extent, but we don't have that kind of relationship where we confide in one another. We're practically strangers; lots of awkwardness in our relationship.


And I know that I should be happy and appreciative. I should be happy I have a place to call "home" in the US and a loving family in these hard economic times. I should be happy that I'm going back abroad at the end of next month. But instead, I'm depressed, tired, disoriented and confused. And upset about my mother's trivializing my experiences abroad. It's like my word doesn't count to her.

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My guess is that they are trying to minimize your experience in Copenhagen and comparing it to your home town (Chicago I think you said) simply because they don't want you to decide to live so far away, permanently. If you tell them that you can do X in Cpoenhagen they respond with your ability to do Y in Chicago - they want you back home, but aren't coming right out and saying that. At least that's my impression.

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Hey girlie,


First off, I have lived and studied abroad two times (I am on my second here in the states now, almost going home to Holland). I think that for people at home, esp. those who have very little academic and/or traveling experience, it's very hard to relate to your experiences. That's the thing, you have to live there, be there, breathe the air in another country to really 'feel' the difference.


I know Europe and US... NOT the same. In fact I expected more similarities than I encountered, from how the media works to how life at uni is. Not bad or good, just very different.


I am SURE your mom does not intend to minimize your experience. All that is happening is that she really can't relate. I am also sure that she is aware of that in a way, and that it's frustrating to her to feel that you can't connect. I am lucky to have parents (esp my mom) who have traveled to the weirdest corners in the world, and a sister that travels even more than I do for her work... but still.


It's strange to come home to a place where very little has changed, while living abroad is a huge change in your personal life. I think it's that more than anything else that you're feeling. Like you've moved faster.


When I came back from half a year in Italy, I have felt lost the first weeks, I remember that very well. It gets better. You're going back, and then you're also going to experience this again when you go back to the states. Just keep in mind that for your life, these are GREAT experiences, nothing compares really, and that it's hard for your loved ones to 1. say goodbye and miss you and 2. not be able to relate.




PS do you keep a blog? I kept a blog here during my stay in boston- my friends and family really love to read up and keep in touch that way. Especially pictures are really helpful

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that sounds like really sound advice there from arwen.


without knowing your mum, I'd be guessing it could be either envy, or as arwen said, inability to relate, and so talk of Coppenhagen makes her awkward because she feels inadequate about her ability to contribute to the conversation. Does your mother like to be the know it all on things generally?

It would make sense. And there's just the simple fact that because she hasn't experienced it, it may not occur to her that it's been a huge and amazing experience for you.


As dispiriting as I can imagine it is, I would recommend you find some other outlet, like writing, as arwen said (and you do write well), and lower your expectations of the depth at which you can connect and engage with your mother. I know that as I have gotten older, and grown, I have less and less in common with my mother, and I have given up trying to help her understand me and my world views, but simply enjoy the fact that I have a civilised relationship with her which is better than nothing, and I don't push it. I just talk to her about the things we can talk about together, even though it is boring.


If you just let it be, she might grow curious in time and start asking of her own volition.


It's a common cause of alienation between parents and kids, where the previous generation didn't get the opportunity to travel like we have. Personally, if I were in their shoes, I'd be jealous of the jet setting younger generation. I wouldn't want to know about it.

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In a way, I get where you're coming from. Three years ago I moved out of the city I'd lived my whole life with my family and I've only just started really settling into my adopted city in the last year or so. I went home last weekend and for the first time truly couldn't wait to get back here. I just felt so disconnected from everyone. I'll always love my family but they can't relate to my world here and I've changed so much as a person...my mum made a subtle dig about there always being a free room for me at home but honestly, the thought of being back there panics me.


I think in your case it's got to be one of two things, or a combination of both. Either your family just can't relate to your new life at all and thereforee feel inadequate talking about it, or they don't want to admit that you've found something you feel more akin to than the life they've previously built up for you. I'm sure it was a jolt to their systems to see you such a different person after 4 months - and believe me, families will notice every little difference in you - but they need to take a reality check.


Your profile says you're 26, which is plenty old enough to be living your own life and making your own roots and memories, wherever they may be. There'll always be home but there's so much more to life! I know so many people, myself included, that would kill for an opportunity like yours. (by the way that's not meant to sound like you're ungrateful because clearly you're not lol)


I think your family might just need time to adjust to this new side of you and then slowly take things from there. But don't let them dictate how you live your life, otherwise you'll just end up unhappy in your situation and resenting them for it.

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yup. arwen hit the nail on the head.


i lived abroad twice during uni and unless someone else has done it, they have a hard time relating. maybe you can just keep that in your little place that you only share with others who have had same/similar experiences. you cannot help her appreciate something that is so OTHER and threatening.


best of luck!



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  • 2 weeks later...

Hey, guys, sorry I took so long to get back to this thread. I've had a lot going on! Thanks so much for your advice, I think my mother may just have a hard time relating like you said...plus she may be jealous, because she did say back before I left in August that she wished she could go on a trip abroad as well...if i had the money I would pay for her to go, I would. But I don't. I do realize how lucky I am to have this opportunity, but I am going to be paying it back for a long time afterward (because I'm living on student loans at the moment).


And I have stopped bringing it up. I no longer talk about Denmark unless they ask me. I tried to look at it from their perspective and yeah, I think I'd get a little annoyed if someone kept constantly talking about their trip abroad. I mean, I'd be interested to hear about it once in a while but I wouldn't want to hear it constantly. So I keep it to myself and I will do a better job of blogging about my trip during the spring (I started a blog in the fall but didn't keep it updated, lol).


Thanks again for your replies!

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