I’m sure many study abroad alums empathize with me when I say this: coming back home after being abroad is not easy.
Studying abroad puts a permanent stamp on your life. As if tattooed on the back of your hand, you’re reminded every single day of your time in (insert your country here) . Any seemingly insignificant object, song, or even food can trigger those memories (OneRepublic – “I Lived” was my weakness… still is).
My first two weeks back home were a mixture of highs and lows. I was both nostalgic and “homesick” every time I retold stories to friends and family. It was a funny feeling, really. Even though I retold my experience some 689 times, I never got tired of telling it. I had such a transformative time abroad, but I couldn’t accurately convey it through words. It wasn’t until the 312th time telling a story that I realized it is impossible to emulate the same emotions and feelings of being abroad to another person. It’s something you have to experience yourself.
Before school ended for the summer, I decided to visit my home university campus. I chatted with former professors, mentors, and advisors. Visiting them had put time in perspective. Five months flew by just like that. Before leaving, I made sure I visited my study abroad advisor, Michael. What I expected to be a quick 10-minute “Hello! I’m back from Italy!” turned out to be a 1.5 hour conversation with him. It was, in a way, therapeutic to converse with someone who has been there and done that. He knew exactly what most (if not all) study abroad returnees go through—acclimating back to a normal life, comparing everything to the countries/cities you visited… simply put, reverse culture shock.
Two months back, memorabilia were still scattered throughout my room (I’m a secret hoarder). Flight tickets here. Chocolate bars from Switzerland there. My collection of train tickets, city maps, and polaroids tucked in the corner of my desk. My backpack was silently begging to be opened, but I was afraid that what I might find would trigger hours of walking down memory lane again.
Now, nine months later, I don’t believe a day has passed that I do not think about my short-lived life abroad. I’ll find my way back to Europe one day. I’ll make sure of it.
In the meantime, I can live through these videos:
Booking my flight now.
Go abroad, study abroad, travel abroad. Whatever reason you have—just be abroad—so you too can say, “I lived.”