Being Back: A Reflection

Bet you thought this blog was over, huh?

Seeing as it’s been about 2.5 months since I returned home to the good ol’ USA, it would make sense that my study abroad-focused blog would have also come to a close. To be honest, I have strongly considered just leaving it as is, deleting the “Blog” bookmark on my Chrome browser, and pretending like I didn’t promise (“promise” lol) to write one last post.

BUT I am not a quitter and, funny enough, turns out that living in entirely new countries with entirely new people for about 5 months has had somewhat of a lasting impact on me, so, though study abroad is technically over, am not over it and so writing this post still feels relevant.

During the week before I left Switzerland, I started reflecting on my experience and made a list of things that I’d be taking back home with me, with the intention of incorporating it into this final post. I never finished this list (not even close), but it’s still a neat snapshot of the ways in which I felt the experiences I was having at the time were impacting me. Here is the UNEDITED version of this list:

Some Of The Things I’ll Be Taking Home With Me

  • New standards for punctuality (ty switz)
  • French knowledge and motivation to keep learning
  • A fam away from home
  • Friends in every region of the USA
  • Appreciation for my country (and it’s reasonable prices)
  • Confidence
  • Public transport knowhow
  • Working knowledge of bitcoin
  • Many new jokes (Ike)
  • Lack of money lol
  • Independence
  • New shoes
  • Appreciation for walking off bread and cheese
  • Appreciation for bread and cheese (as if it could get any higher)
  • A middle part!!!
  • Greek pottery
  • Herbes de Provence
  • A Munich T-shirt that says “save water drink beer” which I will probably never wear
  • The ability to say “thank you” in Greek
  • One less iPhone charger
  • A newfound appreciation for 4G LTE cellular data coverage

Now, obviously a few of these aren’t super relatable, a bunch are kinda jokes, and most of them are the epitome of vague… With all that in mind, it’s still cool to look back and see what was on my mind at the time. It’s also made me realize just how important the post-experience experience has been in allowing for more productive reflection. And so, as great as this list is, and though all of it still holds true (with the exception of the Munich T-shirt, which I decided to leave in France to make room for more pressing souvenirs), the experience of coming back home has revealed much more about what actually stuck with me since the 11-hour flight back.

I’ll be honest: this process — of returning to a familiar place, of reflecting on my time away, of noticing changes in myself — hasn’t been all that easy for me. In fact, the transition back has been difficult in ways that I hadn’t expected. I knew I’d be sad for a little while, and that I’d miss my host siblings and traveling every weekend, but I genuinely assumed that those feelings would be short-lived and that I’d be able to jump right back into my life at Whitman with ease. Buuuuut you guessed it, that’s not exactly what ended up happening…

For the majority of this summer, I’ve been feeling 1) sad to not be in Europe anymore, 2) under-stimulated by this quiet, familiar place, 3) unsettled in a setting I had been certain would feel like home again, and 4) surprised and very confused by all of this. I think this last sentiment is the one that’s had the most impact on my emotional state; the other feelings, though challenging at times, were not all that overwhelming. I’ve definitely been down, bored, and uncomfortable before, and I know how to deal with that. What really got me was just how unprepared I was to be feeling all of this.

It’s funny, because I had a feeling that this experience would “change” me and provide me with “worldly insight” or “personal growth” or whatever. But I didn’t think about how that would actually FEEL. I didn’t really consider the way that change, even positive change, necessarily demands a transition period. And I don’t know about you, but transitions WRECK me (hello @ college / @ beginning of study abroad / @ the 2013 iOS 7 iPhone update). So, in a weird way, this experience of reconfiguring my “normal” life to fit the person I’ve become, though less cool and fun than I anticipated, is really just proof that this experience has indeed made a lasting impact on me. And I like that.

Now, what that lasting impact is is something I’m still figuring out. BUT there are some things I’ve noticed in myself since returning home. As cliché as it is, I can’t deny that increased confidence is probably the most significant change. A few things that I feel more confident doing: speaking French; budgeting; planning and coordinating complex travel itineraries (unless you follow me on insta or talk to me irl you prob didn’t know but I went to Italy with Lucas for a couple weeks after the program ended… or maybe I did write about that in a post? idk); meeting and becoming close to new people… the list goes on.

All of this, though, can be summed up in one sentiment: I feel more confident in my ability to enter new / unfamiliar situations and FIGURE SH*T OUT. And I feel kinda silly making that claim, because all I really did was spend some time in the most beautiful / developed parts of Europe eating food and hanging out with cool kidz my age… but at the same time, I can’t pretend like it was all easy and fun all the time. It was scary and challenging and expensive and stressful and uncomfortable A LOT. But I learned that, when it really comes down to it, I am capable of dealing with unfamiliar challenges. And that feeling gives me the confidence to move forward knowing that I can handle more than I realize.

I think that, in this moment, I’m almost at my peak post-study abroad state: I’ve gotten to the point where I feel excited to be back in my home, yet the experience is still recent enough for me to notice these changes in myself. And though I’m sure that all of this will continue to impact me throughout my life, I want to be clear that I absolutely do NOT believe that this was all I needed to finally feel fully confident / fearless / ready for anything / etc. forever and ever. But I’m grateful that it’s taken me a step closer to trusting myself and encouraging me to continue diving into situations that are scary and new and exciting.

I also want to emphasize that none of this — NONE OF THIS — would feel this empowering / clear / positive / GOOD without the community that’s been with me throughout and since this experience. I feel beyond lucky to be surrounded by such compassionate, generous, brave, and distractingly-fun people, and, as cheesy as it is (also kinda strange to be saying this, cause like, am I accepting an award or something?) it wouldn’t be honest to imply that I am the source of all that I’ve gained from this experience. More than anything, moving to Europe for 5 months fortified my appreciation and love for a whole lot of people, and made me so excited to continue building relationships moving forward.

If you’ve made it this far, thank you for sticking with me throughout this Definitely Cool, 100% Life-Changing, Unsurprisingly Ridiculous Study Abroad Experience.

OH and if you want a little snapshot of the program, check out this incred video made by Izzy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EoDXWmUq98A&t=1s

‘Til next time (except not, cause this is the last post, but maybe I’ll blog again one day),

Ema

Montepulciano, Italy

Montepulciano, Italy

Monet’s Gardens

The lovely Georgette in Bréval, France

 

The last evening with my host family in Lausanne 🙂

 

Pretty sure this is Rome?

 

My cousin Sophie and I in Bréval, France

 

Paris

Monterosso al Mare, Cinque Terre, Italy

 

Corniglia, Cinque Terre, Italy

Paris

 

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