Technically, I’ve been back in California for a month and three days. But who’s counting, right? Anyway, here are some thoughts on life in general (with specific examples from my experience lately) after studying abroad.
- Life goes on. Just as my life continued while abroad for a year, life continued in your hometown, in your home country, even at your chosen university. You didn’t take an extended vacation, despite what people think, and neither did life in the United States. You don’t get a grace period for readjustment, things just keep going. Things didn’t just stop because you’ve been away and they won’t stop for you to breathe now that you’re back.
- Your palate will have changed drastically. Foods that were foreign and exotic and mysterious are now the things that you look for in the grocery store, that you find yourself searching for on restaurant menus. Elements of the cuisine from the country you lived in will be part of your daily meals at home. It is important to find small, family-owned eateries around town that serve your favorite dishes, and it’s an easy way to keep that connection to your host country.
- The world is a big place. You might know this already from various other international travels (like me) but it takes living in a different country to really drive this point home. But now you’ve watched the news from a different perspective, you’ve listened to radio in different languages, you’ve taken classes with people who say things you would never dream of. There are so many things so see, so many people to meet, so many books to read. And it’s tough to realize that you will never see them all, meet them all, or read them all.
- People are the same everywhere. Old women gossip, young women spread rumors, old men tell stories, young men flirt. People still get defensive; some are mean, some are nice. The way people think does not change one little bit no matter where you are in the world. The reasoning or influences behind the opinions might be different, but the end results are the same.
- You will change, profoundly. Are you quieter, more introspective, more prone to rolling-with-the-punches? I am. Are you more patient, less frustrated, more likely to stop and help a stranger? I am. Whether it’s academically, socially, or professionally, you will not be the same person you were when you left. Trust me.
- You will ache to be anywhere other than where you are. Wherever that is–traveling around the state, around the country, to the next neighborhood, to another country. The travel bug is even more annoying after you have studied abroad. Personally, I long to be back in Doha, to feel the oppressive heat and to haggle with a taxi driver and to hear the call to prayer early in the morning. But I will settle for a day trip to San Francisco, or if I’m going to push it, I could go back to Turkey or New Zealand. That would be such a hardship, but I would endure. Haha.
- You will truly realize who values you in their lives. The ones who ask you questions, who follow in your footsteps abroad, who invite you for drinks just to hear your stories…those are the people you want to make the effort for as you readjust and figure things out. I have found this out very clearly over the last month, especially with old friends and family and even colleagues.
Anyway, as you can see I’m still adjusting back to life in the United States. It’s a process, but overall it’s enjoyable. I’m getting to know myself again, just like I did when I first studied abroad. Hope everything is going well in your world, wherever that may be.