Change and the Return to American Coffee

Alex Taylor
Major: Creative Writing English
Non-WMU Program Florence, Italy

What terrifies me most about this study abroad experience has nothing to do with being in Florence. The thing that makes me wake up in cold sweats is the impact this trip will have on me when I arrive home.

I’ve been warned about reverse culture shock and I’ve been told stories from others who dealt with it. The coffee gets worse, the food tastes bland, and the overall pace of American living is overwhelming. But these are not the things that make scared. What I fear most is what people think of me when I get back.

Did I change? How does one explain the change that has been induced within? How do I prove to my friends and family that this trip was beyond worth it? What irks my anxiety the most: will people accept me?

Before I came here, I was just a young kid who didn’t know much about anything and who didn’t care about the effect I had on others. I hurt people, disrespected people, and manipulated people. I was selfish, and at the time, it seemed like the right thing to do. I thought doing all these things and being all these things was the only way to becoming a success in this world. And if you would have asked me four months ago, I would have still thought this was true.

How do I show that I’m not the same dumb kid? Posting a picture of the John Lennon wall to Facebook proves I travelled; but it doesn’t prove I changed. Writing about the places I’ve gone and the people I’ve met shows I’ve been conscious; but it doesn’t prove I changed. And telling those back home that I will not return the same person reflects that I think I’ve changed; but it doesn’t prove I changed.

I’ll deal with the shitty coffee and the tasteless food, but I cannot fathom how I will portray myself as a new man. I have seen places that have changed my vision of the world, felt emotions I didn’t even know existed, and met people I will never forget. But how will the people back home understand?

The fact that I ask these questions makes me sad. This means that the person I was before thought I needed change. This means I was so unhappy with myself that I paid $15,000 to flee the country. This means that before this trip, I hated myself so much I felt the need to prove to my family and friends that I would change. But the truth is, I did change. I just have no idea how to show it.

Every person in the world could use a little change. It could be a new job, a new friend, or a new outfit. But for me, I needed a new way of seeing things. A better way of seeing things. Is it wrong of me to ask myself to prove that I changed?

I will soon return to the states and these questions will be answered. I will meet with friends and family and they will ask me about this trip. But I fear that after my transition, when I get back in the swing of things, everybody will stop caring that I came here. Everybody will get annoyed or bored when I begin to talk about it. Everybody will no longer care about how I was able to change my life forever. But the thing I pray doesn’t happen: I stop caring about it myself.

Through these four months I’ve been able to become a person I’m happy to be and I hope others are happy to know. I’ve seen things only before seen in textbooks and dove through so much culture and history my brain hurts. And I’ve began to be true to myself and recognize how crucial my impact on other people is to my own personal happiness. So now the question is: can I really prove I changed?

The only way I’ll find this answer is through experience. I’m still terrified of those that know me so well seeing right through me and believing that I haven’t changed a bit. But I don’t want to be that dumb, selfish kid anymore; I want to be a person people can be proud to know.

Studying abroad has been a rollercoaster ride and it is nowhere near over. But as of right now, all I can do is buckle up and let the ride happen. My questions will soon be answered and I will be implemented back into American society. And for how much I love Florence, I still look forward to coming home. If you asked me if I think I changed, I wouldn’t even hesitate to answer. I’m just not looking forward to shitty coffee.


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