Major: Creative Writing English
Non-WMU Program Florence, Italy
The decisions riddling my everyday life since returning from Italy puzzle me before I am even able to make them. The choice is simple; I may choose to seek help reintegrating myself within this culture with those who understand best- those struggling to reintegrate themselves- or I may choose to face the challenge alone. Each day is a new opportunity to change which course of action I take, and after six full months of fidgeting back and forth between the two, neither has given me the closure I’ve sought out since my plane touched down in Chicago. Caught between a rock and a hard place, the only hope one may have is the power of knowing a travel experience has molded you into the person you are today.
As many alumni before me have learned, and what I slowly pieced together in the last half-year, is that closure will never cap the jar possessing the experience of a lifetime. Often I find myself caught in small tasks or insignificant events such as struggling to hit homework deadlines or cooking cheeseburgers to reimburse the debt that got me overseas. These moments seem bland, mind-numbing, and a waste of time in comparison to drinking wine on the steps of a 700-year-old European church. It is in these moments where I struggle the most with the shock reversing cultures brings forth, and it is in these moments when I know that although I feel trapped by obligatory tasks right now, one day soon, I will be free once again.
Study abroad alumni are encouraged to surround themselves in unison as we face these challenges together, and although these are the very few people that seek the same assistance as I do, when we gather, we all look like a litter of lost puppies. I’ve tried surrounding myself with others who haven’t gone abroad, and this only intensifies the anxiety of what is to happen next in my life.
Studying abroad poses certain expectations for a student. You will travel. You will learn. You will meet people that will never be lost from memory. These expectations are for the time spent during the experience, but once the adventure wraps up and you are forced to surrender the keys to your home in the country that hosted you, the expectations dissolve into bitter nothingness. One is expected to feel nostalgia and culture shock, but besides the emotional aspect- the same feelings sparking this writing today- physically, you are all on your own. No longer are you expected to travel or learn new things or meet unforgettable people. Without these expectations, one could easily fall back into a state of acceptance knowing the experience is done and over with, and therefore the feelings going abroad produced should be buried with it in the past.
Nobody is going to continue to care that you studied abroad. What one must remember is that that opinion of others must not rule the decisions you make. No matter how much time passes, no matter how faded the memories become and how fast communication dwindles down with old friends, you must continue to implement the knowledge gained abroad into your everyday life. The revelations of your self-worth must not stop at studying abroad; when the expectations fade away with the memories of your time abroad, create new ones. Studying abroad doesn’t have to be your only excuse to travel, to learn, or to meet people who will change your life forever. Although those closest to you may stop asking about your trip, and you yourself may stop bringing it up in conversation, never forget that studying abroad has brought upon a perspective that nobody else possesses.
The world is a simple place. Travel has never been more accessible, yet many find excuses to remain rooted to the ground. There is no concrete answer of how one must deal with life after returning home from another country. People will stop listening, family will stop asking, but the important thing to remember about reintegrating back into the United States: don’t work so hard to fit back in that your forget what it felt like to be freed from societies mold. Naturally, we flock to conform rather than rising up; although I write this in the midst of another tedious day full of classes I don’t want to take and working for others rather than for myself, I have finally found a sense of closure for my experience after six months of being back. The closure…there will never be any. Maybe not having closure isn’t such a bad thing after all.
There was a once a time when I truly believed studying abroad in Florence would be the peak of my entire life, but looking back on it know, studying abroad wasn’t the peak of my life; studying abroad was the beginning of the rest of it.