Even before I’d decided to study abroad this summer, I knew what I was getting myself into. All my friends had enrolled in semester-long study abroad programs in countries ranging from England and France to Thailand and Japan before me; and I’d watched all of them return the same way – upset, wistful, and of course, seeking comfort by swapping stories with other friends who’d studied abroad.
At first though, I didn’t get it. I scoffed at them, rolling my eyes whenever someone mentioned how something wasn’t “the same” as it was where they’d been. “There’s got to be something here that’s at least similar,” I would say, but to no avail. They were convinced otherwise.
It wasn’t until I returned from London that I finally understood what they were saying. Coming back, nothing felt the same. Even Angry Orchard couldn’t satisfy my cider ale cravings quite like a Koppalberg could. I apologized to my closest friends who I’d openly mocked, confessing they were right. I was wrong. Studying abroad had taken its toll.
Now, before I go into the six stages I, and most everyone who’s studied abroad, went through after returning, I want to say that this is not by any means meant to discourage anyone from studying abroad. I think, if anything, the feelings I went through after were telling of how incredible the experience was; and it was the experience of a lifetime. So don’t think it’s all bad because it’s not – that’s only the nostalgia you feel afterward, you know, in addition to other things.
Here are the six emotional stages you will likely go through after returning from study abroad.
1. The Initial Shock Stage
This first hit me when I’d arrived in the boarding area for my flight going back to California. After a nightmarish morning involving a high-priced taxi, its sailor-mouthed driver, and several road closures, I’d practically collapsed into the nearest vacant seat I could find. Even in my exhaustion and relief, this stage came in one big wave as I looked out the window to the rainy day outside and realized it was really over. I was returning home.
For most of my friends though, this stage came later on when they arrived back home. We all underestimate it, but returning to a familiar place after adjusting to a foreign one is surprisingly pretty difficult. It’s almost like picking up a sport after years of being out of practice. You know the movements and techniques, but it feels different the second time around. That’s when you realize it’s because you’re different, which leads me to my second point.
2. The Depression Stage
Unlike many of my friends, this stage came full-force when I boarded the plane heading back to LAX. I must have looked as pathetic as I felt to the couple seated in my row. Sitting in the window seat, I pouted and sighed the entire flight over in between gulps of sparkling wine and non-stop scrolling through 900 pictures worth of trip memories. Yeah, it was pretty dramatic.
The next week following my return proved to be just as much, too. I felt like crying even at the mention of London, and actually did on some occasions. Considering it was my first time ever traveling outside the country, I guess I should have expected the intense reaction. After all, it was a huge cultural shock, but one I’d come to love.
For those who’ve studied abroad, the hardest part about coming back is going through the depression stage. I mean, think about it, if you were in a completely new country exploring the area and going on adventures almost every day, you’d be depressed too to come back to the same old place and things you’ve been doing you’re entire life. Maybe I’m just spoiled, but that’s the way I see it. However, while I’ll say this stage is the hardest for those who have studied abroad, I think the next stage is the hardest for those who have to be around you. Mom and Dad, take this as my formal apology for the following stage on this list.
3. The Tantrum Stage (a.k.a I Hate Everything Stage)
Oh boy is this one scary. For a while following the Depression Stage, I went through an anger phase, crossing my arms and turning my nose to anything and everything Californian. Even talking to people who expressed a love of the area was followed by an inner-scoff and immediate disinterest. It was snooty, yes, but I couldn’t help it. All I wanted to do was be back in London; and believe me, it showed.
My poor parents tried on several occasions to remind me how fortunate I was to live in the area we lived in. My mom even went to the extent of trying to find London-specific things nearby, but her efforts were only met with my tantrum-like response of “it’s not the same!” The thing is though, after a while of feeling angry over the fact nothing is and will ever be the same, you start to get sick of having such a pessimistic mindset. That’s when I finally took my mom’s offer of searching for London-like things near home, which only brought me into the next stage.
4. The Substitution Stage
Expect to do a lot of research when this stage hits. For about a good week to two weeks time, I went on a near manhunt for anything closely resembling food, activities, or places I’d found in London. I think at one point I spent about two hours on the internet searching for local pubs and stores selling any and all England-specific products. The inner investigator in me had finally surfaced.
Anywhere I went soon turned into a scavenger hunt. Copious amounts of cheese, baguette bread, cider ale, prosecco, and Indian food were purchased in addition to watching several hours worth of Tudors. And for a time there, I was content with the replacements. They made me feel as though I was still back in London, minus the brownstone buildings and pretty much everything else. However, like all transitional stages, this one soon came to a close when I came to the realization that nothing could replace my experience in London. It was true. Nothing would be the same.
5. The Realization Stage
You could say this stage is almost a lapse back into the Depression Stage, but followed more so by the fact you’ve come to terms with the idea nothing will be the same where you are as it was when you were abroad. The realization stage came suddenly when a friend from my trip sent me a Snapchat of her drinking a Thistly Cross (a cider beer we all tried while visiting Edinburgh) at a bonfire in her hometown. Seeing the picture took me back to that moment when my study abroad course classmates and I were doing the same thing, but together; and that’s when I realized the substitutions could never replace the original. That’s also when I realized I didn’t want to replace the original, which quickly led me into the sixth and final stage of my return back from study abroad.
6. The Acceptance Stage
It was a long and difficult process to get to this stage, but I’d finally reached it. After weeks of depression, anger, endless searches to find bits of London in the whole of California, and tears, lots of them, I’d accepted the fact that what I experienced there could not be found here; and I was okay with that.
There’s a certain magic you experience somewhere or at some time or with someone that can’t be relived again, or at least will be different the second time around. The best example I can think of, is that it’s like going to Disneyland as an adult when the last time you went was as a kid. When you’re young, you see things differently. Everything seems brighter, more wonderous, and way more enchanting than it does when you’re older. As an adult, I can say I think I prefer my child-like vision of Disneyland to the Disneyland I visited several months ago.
But when you come to this stage, you also come to understand something about studying abroad you didn’t fully recognize before – it’s meant to be temporary, and that’s what makes it so special. It’s in our human nature to make the most of an experience when we know it has an expiration date on it; and that’s exactly what I, and all my study abroad friends, did. We made the most out of the time we were given.
Will I do something similar to it again? I don’t know, but what I do know is that nothing can replace the things, the place, and of course the people I met while abroad. Like I said earlier, it was the experience of a lifetime, but I realize I have many more ahead of me. After all, I’m still pretty young, and it’s safe to say the bright-eyed kid in me isn’t done growing up just yet.
Featured photo credit: … via flickr.com