People tell you lots of things about studying abroad. They tell you about the amazing people you’ll meet, the delicious food, the monuments, the ease of travel between European countries, and the life-changing experiences you’ll surely have. Some even mention the difficult parts: the initial jet lag, the foreign language, the exchange rate, the cultural differences. What few divulge is the experience of coming home.
During your last few days, you walk around your city with different eyes. These aren’t the eyes with which you first looked in awe at the countless little cafes, ancient buildings, and fountains. They aren’t even the eyes that came just a bit later when the initial amazement wore off, nor are they the eyes that began to see landmarks and recognize local friends. These are the “last time” eyes, the ones that see everything tinted with a wise sadness.
This is the last time you’ll have a latté from the barista that plays indie music and gives you a bright smile every morning. This is the last time you’ll have “Pasta Monday” with friends at the little pasta shop down the street just before your French film class. This is the last time your professor will make you take turns reading lines from a play by Victor Hugo. This is the last time you’ll sip wine outside the cathedral with classmates, the last “mardi party.” This is the last time you’ll chat after dinner with your host family.
Of course, you’ll be excited to go home. Four months without the comforts of your usual home and without your friends and family are challenging to say the least. You’ll be excited to enter Dunkin Donuts and eat a real bagel for the first time in months. You’ll be slightly relieved to be speaking English again. You’ll be able to use a normal, 21st century cell phone. You’ll be comforted by stepping foot in your hometown and seeing your childhood friends. After all, nothing back home has truly changed.
But you’ve changed. You’ve experienced an indescribable loneliness upon arrival and you’ve gone through the process of making new friends once again. You’ve gotten lost walking home in the pouring rain, wishing your iPhone worked in this country. You’ve traveled on buses, subways, trains, and planes between various cities and countries. You’ve been forced to be entirely independent for the first time in your life. Through all of your best and worst moments, as clichéd as it sounds, you’ve actually begun to find your place in the world.
So what happens when you’re back at home? Can you simply go back to your usual college routine and busy lifestyle? Or can you hold on to who you’ve become? I don’t think anything can be just as it was when you go back, frankly; studying abroad is life-changing after all. Maybe we just need to find some middle ground between two countries, two lives. I think it’ll take some time – for me, at least – but it’s a comfort to know that a second home, no matter how far away, will always be there.