Study abroad was one of the best things to ever happen to me.
Like a majority of American students who decide to spend a semester abroad in a foreign country, I had the time of my life. I thrived as I traveled Europe, walking along the cobbled streets of Edinburgh that would glisten after a fresh rain, chatting up new faces in London cafes, and enjoying the perfect pint in a cozy Irish pub.
Fate brought me together with the most incredible new friends to experience this adventure with. With them, I would laugh until my belly would ache, I would be comforted when I felt homesick or I was overwhelmed, and I would always have people to dance on tables with when the weekend arrived. We were all on a new escapade together, and we were there for each other to help another grow into the confident, joyful travelers that we became.
I realize I sound like the stereotypical college girl whose study abroad experience totally changed her life, but in all honesty, it did. During my time abroad, I didn’t think it was possible for me to feel so happy, independent, and fulfilled. But of course, reality hit when I had to pack up my life changing experience into two suitcases and head home.
Before I studied abroad, I was in love with my life. I was (and still am) incredibly close to my family, perhaps overly involved in activities on campus, and had amazing friends. None of this changed when I got back. I was thankful and eager to return to all of these wonderful things that made it so hard for me to leave the country in the first place.
However, when I came back, something was different. I changed and so did my perception of what was around me. My entire worldview altered and expanded exponentially in just four months. Everything on my already small campus seemed so much smaller, and I just couldn’t handle it. I wanted to pick up right where I left off, but I had become so nostalgic for the constant sense of excitement and change that was so available to me during my time abroad that I couldn’t focus on the present — I was blind to all of the good things that were right in front of me.
I started becoming very withdrawn from the things made me who I was before I left. I would show up and participate, but I could not truly engage in the moment. School was harder than ever before, I was taking on a new internship, and I took on more leadership positions in the organizations I was involved with. I couldn’t find anything that really excited me — I just saw everything as an additional responsibility that I didn’t want to handle. I specifically remember one day coming home from my internship, sleeping until mid-evening, and then doing homework while avoiding any interaction with my friends. I was wallowing and I couldn’t stop.
I didn’t know what was wrong with me — why wasn’t I enjoying the things that used to make me so happy?
In hindsight, I realize that I handled my transition back into my normal life in a way that wouldn’t maximize my happiness and well being. I’m not sure if I would have been able to handle it differently at the time, but with experience comes lessons learned. I thought that I was doing something wrong. I thought that I would no longer be able to enjoy the university that I loved more than anything before I left. I felt that I had peaked. Everything seemed so small and trivial.
What I wish I realized then was that there was nothing wrong with me. My feelings were, and always will be, valid. When you’re coming from such a “high” — constantly meeting new people, seeing new places, and engaging with all the world has to offer — coming back to normalcy becomes much more difficult because your perception is permanently changed. I’ll never be able to go back to how I viewed and interacted with the world before I left, and I wouldn’t want to. But now I know that when facing similar situations, or when I just enter a lull where nothing seems exciting and new, to see every opportunity — no matter how small or seemingly unexciting — as a chance for growth and joy.
We have the opportunity to make every ordinary experience in our daily lives extraordinary. Whether it’s exploring a new part of town, starting a friendship with someone outside your immediate social circle, or taking moments of each day to yourself, you can change the way you see the world without a stamp on your passport.
A part of me is always going to be looking for the next adventure. It has been a year since I returned from study abroad, and I still miss it every day. But now, I know to address my feelings and the nostalgia I feel from time to time head on, and I know that what I’m feeling is completely normal. To change these feelings into something more positive, I am making the conscious effort to turn what may appear to be mundane into something magnificent. You never know what exciting opportunity may lie ahead.