My junior year of college I had the amazing opportunity to experience not just one, but two semesters abroad; fall in Florence, Italy, and spring in New York City.
I’d like to think I’ve helped a lot of readers when it comes to advice about studying abroad. I can make packing lists and budget guides out the wazoo, tell you how to handle being in a foreign country without a phone for four months, and how to rock your first day at your big-city internship.
But coming home from a semester abroad is something different. There’s no right way to do it. There’s no right way to feel about it. And that’s the best advice I can give. Because, to be honest, I sucked at coming home.
I chose to go to Kent State University mostly for the study abroad options associated with my major, fashion merchandising. After early acceptance my senior year of high school, my junior year of college was the one I was looking forward to the most. I saved, I planned, I dreamt about all the amazing memories I would make. And then I did it.
It’s crazy how one day you’re watching the sunrise at the top of Piazzale Michelangelo, toasting to the best semester of your life with 30 people who became your family for four months, and the next your back in your hometown, sitting on your twin bed that’s no longer as comfortable as it used to be, trying to wrap your head around what just happened. Something you looked forward to for what seemed like forever is actually over.
From that moment on it’s like you’re in a study abroad hangover. You don’t want to eat because the food doesn’t taste as good at home (minus Chipotle – that was my first stop for sure). You’ll honestly forget how to respond to people in normal situations because you’re so used to ignoring passerby’s when they were speaking a language you didn’t understand. You’ll get mad when you realize the bars close at 2 a.m. again, and that you can’t just walk around the block to find a new adventure waiting for you every day.
And in the midst of these moments when you’re frustrated that your life went from 100 mph to 0 so abruptly, you’ll realize how all the things you missed for so many months are finally around you again, and you’ll get mad at yourself for taking them for granted.
You can finally hug your mom. You can send a text message without looking for a Free Wi-Fi spot. You can hang out with your friends and not have it be through Google+. So much good is happening, and yet, what you really miss you now can’t get back.
The biggest challenge I faced was how to describe my experience. Each time I left and came back I would get the same question, “OMG how was it?!”
And every time I would answer the same way.
Because how was I supposed to summarize every perfect little moment in those beautiful cities in one sentence without sounding like I’m bragging about it? Where is the line between grateful and boastful, and how do I stop myself from crossing it?
A year since my first return home, that’s an answer I’m still looking to figure out. I’ll warn you now – you’ll never not be missing where you were. It’s like you left a little piece of your heart there that you will never get back. But life goes on, and you have to get excited about the next adventure. It will be as amazing as you make it.
Image via Lindsay Thompson