Lessons Learned - Study Abroad Edition

I've been trying to look back on things I've written about in previoussummer, and I am struggling. As I wrote on Tuesday, I'm not very "on the ball" in the summer. I think this is a good time to share my actual reflections about my time abroad. To be honest, I'm glad I didn't write it as soon as I got home. There are certain things I've realized only in being back for a while and settling in. It seems like I should be settled in at this point, but I'm really not. I keep saying I was thrown into life as soon as I got back. There are certain things that I've realized since I've been back, and there are certain things that are simply reestablished. There are also things about my adventures in here that have a significant importance.

1.       Coming home is a more difficult transition than one would think.
This is surprisingly more difficult to write about than I would have thought. The thing is, I'm struggling to transition back to my regular life. I recently talked to a co-worker who did the same trip as me, and she's also struggling. I think there's this expectation that everyone wants to hear about your experience and it's all you're going to talk about. Now, all I say is "it was absolutely amazing. I absolutely loved it, and I'm going to move back." I'm old news, so I need to get back to regular life. The problem is, I don't fit into that old life anymore.

2.       Get to know locals.
This is something that actually bothered me about other people. I got lucky I suppose – I met a guy who was British and stole all of his friends. Then, there were other people who didn't bother. I met a Canadian girl there, and we're still friends, and that's okay. It's okay to want to hang out with people who "get you," but I think I would regret studying abroad if I hung out with only Canadians. I mean, I now get mail from England AND Switzerland AND maybe the US if I can convince my flatmates to write me letters. In spending time with people from England, I was able to fully grasp the culture. I was a part of the pubs and the football and the fish and chips. I got to go to places like Rother Valley which I wouldn't know about if I wasn't with British people. Get to know the people. Get cultured.

3.      People can make or break a trip.
Choose your travel companions wisely. When I think back to the best trips, they were with people who loved me and cared about me and cared that all parties involved were having fun. Then there were other trips where I was ditched or no one cared about what I wanted to do. Travel with people that can handle you at your worst falling asleep on the bus/yelling at you in a hostel/ being grumpy on early mornings moments, and you'll have a grand time. At the end of the day, no matter what happened, they won't care as long as they're doing it with you.

4.       You may not find people who are as good as your friends from home.
Maybe this was just me, but I thought I was going to come out of this with lifelong friends and wonderful memories. That didn't happen for me. I rely on my friends. I have specific people playing specific roles in my life, and I felt a little lost without them. I was hoping to find one person to connect with and be close with. I've built up my life with the most amazing people, and it's difficult to find people similar to that. I know I can never replace the people I have in my life now, but I was hoping to make a good connection with at least one person.

5.       Write Letters.
So I’m a complete nerd when it comes to stationary. While I was away, I ended up buying so much stationary at Paperchase (noted in December's monthly favourites). I was even keeping an eye on cards at home and had about six new sets waiting for me when I got home. The thing is, I loved writing letters or postcards to my friends back home. Most of the time, I got letters back which is so nice. It’s a great way to keep in touch with friends, and they always love hearing about your adventures. It also makes people feel good to get something in the mail.

6.       Keep a Journal
This is similar to writing letters except more personal. I went through a few journals while I was away, and it got me into a great habit of writing pretty much every day. Until I got back, I hadn’t missed one day this year. I wasn’t as good at the beginning of the year, and I’m a little disappointed in myself. It would have been great to look back on those memories. However, I’m glad that I got myself caught up in the last half of the year. All of my adventures are recorded so I can enjoy them in the years to come. It’s so special and personal in a way that pictures cannot be.

7.       Leaving home will test friendships.
This may be one of the most shocking things I discovered while I was away. There are my best friends that kept in contact all the time. There are people that held weekly Skype dates. Then there were those that I thought would stay in touch but didn’t. It hurt for a while, but I think I found my true friends. The good thing is, there were a few people that messaged me unexpectedly.  Moving away from home – whether it’s a city away or an ocean away – will reveal some interesting things about people, but it’s important to not take it personally.

8.       It’s difficult to fix issues at home.
I didn’t get homesick very often, but when I did, it was because something was going on at home. There was a lot of family stuff that happened while I was gone, and it was difficult to deal with the fact that I couldn’t do anything to help anyone. The thing is, most of the time, there’s nothing you can do about it. You can use your words to support your family, and it’s okay to struggle with it. Part of being away is knowing that you don’t fit into your old role as a friend/daughter/sister.

9.       Study abroad.
That’s it. This experience has opened my mind and changed my life. My dream for six years was to study abroad. My new dream is to move back. If you are in university/ going into university and you can find a way to study abroad, do it. There are so many opportunities to study all over the world. All you have to do is find the opportunity and take it. Get in touch with people at your university and figure out whether it fits your academic path or not. Maybe a summer exchange is right for you. Do yourself a favour and check it out.

My year abroad was one of growth. I learned so much about myself, and I’m continually learning about myself as I’m settling back in at home. I’ve had my difficulties, but looking back, there is nothing I could possibly regret about this trip. I had never left home for a long period of time, and I packed my bags and left for a different continent. I moved across an ocean for eight months, and I am itching to go back. This was the most amazing experience. I still can’t believe how fast it went by. I achieved a six year dream, and it feels so good.

Have you ever studied abroad? I would love to hear about where you went and how you succeeded.


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