Coming Back from Studying Abroad doesn’t Mean Coming Back to Normal

You know that feeling of the day after Christmas? You’re surrounded by all these great things you’ve been looking forward to for months, but all the excitement is gone. You’re tired. You’re numb. You’ve had a lot to take in. And to top it off, everyone is too busy with their own day-after-Christmas-funk that they don’t want to hear all about yours. That’s what it feels like to come home from studying abroad.

Before I spent a semester in Oxford, I had a plan: spend a semester in Oxford. Everything I had been doing for the past two years was all leading to that semester, the coup de gras of my college career. I worked two jobs, housesat, babysat and stashed my money like a squirrel getting ready for winter. Grandparents didn’t bother to ask me what I wanted for my birthday anymore—they just cut me a check and it landed directly in the get-Faith-over-the-pond fund.

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Christ Church University was in full bloom in early September. 

Let me assure you, I don’t regret a moment of the time leading up to my semester abroad. My three months in Oxford changed my life. It taught me about the world and about myself. It broadened my horizons. It introduced me to new interests. Suddenly, I knew what I wanted to do with my life. I packed up my dorm room in December completely content with my experience and assuring myself I wouldn’t have any regrets when my plane touched down in the States fifteen hours later.

I was excited to see my family and friends. I couldn’t wait to catch up and share my stories with them. By the time I had been home for two weeks, I had met up with exactly one of my friends for little more than an hour. A week after that my family visited from out of town for our annual Christmas celebration and my collections of photos only yielded a few apathetic audience members who flipped through a handful snapshots before getting distracted by the shrimp cocktail that had just been unearthed from the fridge. My stories fell on deaf ears.

Just as suddenly, it hit me that I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I was lucky enough to be starting my job again in January, which would offer a welcome distraction, but the days leading up to that were typically spent in my room flipping through guidebooks that pointed out all the great things I missed while in the UK or trying to keep up a conversation with friends who were now eight time zones away.

It was depressing and I wasn’t prepared for it. Everyone warned me about culture shock when I prepared to leave the States to study abroad, but what they forgot to mention was that I would go through the same thing when I come back—but it was worse. You’ve just had this life altering experience. You’ve seen so many things and met so many people. You’re not the same person anymore. When you get back, everything is just how you left it. It feels like you’ve been running and suddenly you hit a wall.

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Ben’s “American style” cookies were a staple at the Oxford Covered Market.

After that realization, the guilt sets in. Why should you be unhappy to be home? Shouldn’t you be grateful that you experienced so much? Now that you’re back, it’s time to get on with your life. Stop being so irrational. Move on.

But, despite what that little voice in your head whispers to you, it isn’t that simple. As I mentioned before, I had spent two years planning my time in the UK. What I failed to do was plan what I would do when I got back—and that taught me just as much about myself as going abroad in the first place: I’m a wreck without a plan.

It took an entire semester after I arrived back to begin feeling like my life was settling in again. A few friendships didn’t survive the hiatus and I had to face the fact that my career aspirations have changed as a result of my traveling. I’ve had to learn to let go of that hazy imagination fueled idea of what my life “should” be and I’ve embraced the idea of not knowing what is coming next. I have no doubt I’ll be better off for it, just like I was for studying abroad.

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