Everything your friend who studied abroad is panicking about
Wait, Justin Bieber is cool again?
Studying abroad is basically a long distance relationship with your “home institution”, and there are two kinds of long distance relationships. There’s the kind where you break up after high school (because duh, college) but you secretly believe you’ll end up together, so you plan on starting things up again in five years after you’ve learned enough about life and love and freedom and trying new things, and you’ve seen “Sweet Home Alabama” like four times, so you are ready for your throwback happily ever after…Sorry, what were we talking about?
Oh, yes. Then there is another kind of long distance relationship. The one where you can’t help but think about what you’re missing out on and how much you regret taking time away from each other (even though you’re sure your ex-significant other doesn’t have time to think about these things between rush events, red solo cups, apple picking, finals and all the busyness that comes with life on campus).
During my semester abroad, Brown was the one that got away.
Of course, I realize that this article is a product of one very specific study abroad experience of one very specific Brown student, and I want to make it clear that Morocco was a magical experience that I would do all over again if I had the chance. That being said, this is how it feels to come back after being away for eight months.
Moving in mid-year anxiety
It’s winter in New England. I’m going to be carrying boxes up three flights of stairs. No one else will be doing that. My room will look sad for at least a week because Bed, Bath & Beyond doesn’t really understand why I want “back to school” stuff in January.
‘What has become of my stuff in storage?’ anxiety
Those sweaters have been in that box for eight months now. I don’t know if I should be more worried about how little air has gotten in there, or how many other things have gotten in there. What perfume masks “box-smell” the best? Did this shirt always have these lines down the back or is it now permanently folded?
Seasonal adjustment anxiety
It was summer in Turkey, which means hot weather. It was fall in Morocco, which means more hot weather. Going from any weather to New England winter is hard (unless you’re from Minnesota). Going from eternal summer to New England winter? This must be what true pain is. Welcome to an hour of sunshine per day and not feeling your hands.
Culinary adjustment anxiety
It took about a month and a half before my stomach decided it had finally come to an agreement with local food-bacteria (I’m not entirely sure how the science of this works) and I could enjoy eating again. Is this going to happen in reverse now? Chobani, are you still there for me?
Reverse culture shock anxiety
I’ve heard about this. As an international student, it happens to me pretty much at the end and beginning of every semester. Is it going to be worse now? How much exactly have perceptions of Justin Bieber changed in the last eight months? Can he legally drink now? Is Malia coming to Brown?
‘Reminding everyone that I am indeed alive’ anxiety
Hi. I know we were never really on texting and Skpye-ing regularly terms, but we used to have some kind of a relationship. Remember me? No, I wasn’t in your Econ. class Sophomore Spring… No, I’m not in Theta either. Nevermind.
‘Perfecting my study abroad story in six words’ anxiety
Yes, I definitely want to talk about it, and I would love to tell you about Morocco. But I’m already five minutes late to class and we are walking in opposite directions and you just asked me how study abroad was and I have no idea how you want me to fit five months into two sentences. Please ask me to get a cup of coffee sometime and talk about it; I’d love to do that instead, and I promise I’ll be much more pleasant if you just ask me to do that.
Catching up anxiety
What I said above, but reversed. Also, I have one story to tell anyone who is interested in hearing it, but at least 20 stories I am interested in hearing in return. How is there only 24 hours in a day, and how is it fair that I can’t effectively human if I’m not asleep for at least seven of them?
‘Am I still relevant?’ anxiety
See number 6. I just wanted to re-iterate how stressful this is. Please tell me you still love me and that Halloween wasn’t even that fun this year.
‘Am I still smart?’ anxiety
Study abroad is notoriously not as difficult as a semester at Brown is, and I’m sure there are exceptions to this, but this was indeed true for my experience. There was a point in time when it didn’t take me an entire week to write a five-page paper, I promise.
‘What even is being a junior?’ anxiety
Last time I was here, I was “almost halfway through” with college. Now all of a sudden, I’m “more than halfway through” with it. What? Not ready. Rewind please.
‘I don’t have a job’ anxiety
CareerLab, how I’ve missed you. Potential employers, I can now talk to you on the phone and I won’t be sleepy because it will not longer be 11PM for me, but only 6PM for you.
‘Am I going to graduate on time?’ anxiety
Requirements, are you still there? Yep, you still are. The one thing that is sure to be waiting for you when you return from your semester abroad. Great.
‘Am I a different person now?’ anxiety
No, not really. But yes, I guess, a little bit. Did I always fall asleep to Moroccan rap music, or is this new?
Keeping in touch anxiety DOUBLED
Having two sets of people from two different lives to stay updated with is pretty hard. Now, make that three. Skype with parents on Sunday? Wait, I had a Skype date with Moroccan host-parents at that time, can we reschedule, real-parents-who-are-paying-for-college? No?
Now that that’s all in the open, I want to make one thing clear: if you have the chance to study abroad, do it.
Don’t even think twice about it. It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that will change everything you know about yourself. You will make memories that will never fail to put a smile on your face. You will never ever get sick of telling your friends, kids and grandkids about the time you spent the night at Rome airport because you didn’t have a place to stay before your flight to the Canary Islands, or the time you fell asleep at the airport in Casablanca and almost missed your flight to Berlin but the lady at the check-in desk was so scared that you weren’t going to stop crying that she scribbled something on a piece of paper and gave it to you as a boarding pass so you could get on your flight.
To everyone coming back from a semester abroad, congratulations on being brave enough to let your life change, and welcome back to Brown. I know you’ve missed it.