Stateside and Moving On

I’ve been home for about a month now. Stateside again. Speaking full-fledged American lingo. Well, at least trying to. Language, just like the rest of it, is a part of the adjustment. It’s culture shock in reverse. Leaving is one thing, but coming back is entirely another.

I lived in Australia for five months. Five months isn’t a long time on the whole scale of things, but it’s long enough. Long enough to become accustomed to the food, to the culture, to the people, to the slow and steady pace of life. And it seems that right when it’s all beginning to feel a little like home, it’s time to pack up and ship out. The beauty and betrayal of study abroad is the fact it’s only temporary.

When you’re thinking about studying abroad you end up going to all these seminars. Ladies with large voices and big brown eyes will pass out packets upon packets of information about health insurance, traveling alone, student benefits, and the ever-expected culture shock. They will do their best to prepare you for the unpreparable. But five months down the road when you’re getting ready to go home, the ladies are nowhere to be found. I wanted to scream, “Where are my packets? Where is my quick and easy fix?” Because for me, the culture shock of coming back was far worse than the culture shock of leaving.

For most students, the concept of leaving is embraced differently. Some have been pining away for home sweet home since day one. Others cling to their foreign life in utter despondency and board the plane kicking and screaming. I, like most others, like the lucky ones, leave ambivalently. In order to return to something great, we must leave something equally wonderful.

I won’t lie to you. It’s nice to be home. It’s nice to have the little comforts again. There is family and friends who have always known you and will always know you. There are your favorite coffee shops and bars, your favorite food, your own room. You will be welcomed home like a king, and people will rant and rave about how jealous they are of you. They will all want to see your pictures and hear your stories, and you will smile because you will realize you’ve just had a once in a lifetime experience.

But after a couple of days, after a couple of weeks, the hype will die down and people will talk to you as though you never left. They won’t want to hear about the time a kangaroo gave you a bloody nose. At least not again. They will grow tired and antsy of hearing you talk about your adventures and all of the friends you made and miss so dearly. They will grow tired because they weren’t there, they didn’t see it, they didn’t meet them, and they can’t possibly – no matter how hard they try – ever really understand.

It’s a month out, and even though I’m surrounded by those who love me, I’m feeling slightly isolated. I’ve been gone for five months and no matter how long I talk, how much I say, no one will ever really understand what happened to me when I was away. This is an equally amazing and frustrating situation. I’m on a high, cloud nine, and I’ve experienced something so rare, which makes me so blessed. But I’m alone on my cloud and everything back home is largely the same as always.

For those of you who are gone and will eventually come back home, here’s my advice. Studying abroad, traveling, living and breathing other cultures are some of the most rewarding experiences in life. They will change you forever. Soak every minute of it up. When you come home, share your experiences with others, tell your friends about it, but realize what you’ve gone through is something so special, words and pictures simply fall lacking. Be thankful, be blessed, but move on. The experience was great and it will always be with you, but reminiscing it in a regretful, pining manner won’t get you anywhere. As the saying goes, as one door closes, another one is opened. Love it, but let it lead you somewhere else.