For many, studying abroad is a life-changing experience, and I am no exception to that. But what happens after studying abroad? How does it change a person? I spend a semester studying abroad in Tangier, Morocco. While I was abroad, I traveled to six different Moroccan locations and seven different European cities. It is now nearly four months later since I have returned home to America. When I thought about studying abroad, it never occurred to me what would happen to me psychologically when I returned after experiencing the most wildly enriching and life-changing experience. The days, weeks, and months after returning home have had some highs and lows, as most of my family and peers do not understand the experience that has just altered my entire world view and thoughts on my future. My intention is to relate to others who have experienced thoughts and feelings similar to the ones that I have, as only a small percentage of students across America are fortunate enough to study abroad.
Upon returning home, I could not have been more excited to see my friends and family. Coming home meant the comfort of homemade meals and my own bed. Being away for four months had really given me a new appreciation for life at home. But after a few days, the readjustment to home started to sink in and a few aspects of my life started to feel altered. I realized that what was once so utterly normal to me now seems as foreign to as when I first arrived in Morocco. Everything from passing cars to street signs and social customs I seemed to notice more and make comparisons, just as I had when I left. I was experiencing a reverse culture shock. Suddenly I was beginning to rediscover norms of my home life and realize the beauty of the experience I just had. Tangier is a very colorful place, and when I was abroad, everything stood out to me. The sounds, smells, the street art, and people dressed in traditional clothing and I felt like an adventurer out of the storybooks I read as a child. Being in a foreign place allowed me to fulfill that childhood wonder of exploration on a very real level. When everything is so new and exciting, I found that I paid attention to much more stimuli than when I have observed the same buildings, streets, and people for most of my life. I found that people lose the sense of wonder in everyday things when nothing feels new. That’s why in the days, weeks, and months after returning, that sense of wonder became replenished to me. It gave me an urge to travel and experience more. My view on life became broader and my sense of adventure reached a new height.
As I and nearly everyone that experiences studying abroad, experiences this question, “How was it? This question can become your favorite thing to talk about but also it can be frustrating at times too. For me, I love talking about my experiences studying abroad and it allows me to relive those days of adventure and finding myself. But some of the time, it starts to become tedious. Every new encounter with a family member or friend since returning will ask me some variation of how the trip was or what was my favorite part was. Sometimes I will get really into talking about my experiences and go on and on but other times I will feel like it’s the last thing I want to discuss. Talking about possibly the most exciting time in your life can be an interesting dynamic I had come to realize. It can make me so grateful that I can talk about such an extraordinary event(s) and it will fill me with joy. But sometimes talking about it will make you realize just how much that you miss those days of adventure and freedom and makes you put your current life into a perspective that will make you long for your next adventure.
In the following weeks and months, as I and many other peers I know have discussed is that; we have changed while the world we came from has seemed to be exactly how we left it. We see the world under a new lens and experience having new values, beliefs, and a refreshed respect for foreign cultures. I realize that I have new knowledge and skills that I didn’t have before. Encountering situations with a language barrier now don’t seem as daunting, but more exhilarating instead. Being abroad challenged me in ways I would have never imagined. I came back with a more defined sense of independence and more willing mind to experience new and uncertain things. Studying abroad has made one thing abundantly clear to me, I am a different person than before I left, but the world I left behind had not changed at all when I returned. I like to phrase it as that time had stopped back in America when I left for Morocco. So when I returned, everything seemed exactly how I had left it. Now whether that is a blessing or a curse, I have still to understand.
In the months after returning, the friends I made studying abroad have continued to be some of my best friends and we can all agree on one thing. We miss it. In the months after returning, almost anything will remind me of something that happened in Morocco. From a saying to a picture, or even a joke. Everything reminds me of those days abroad. But as much as I miss it, I cannot live in the past. Coming to terms with who I am after that experience is what must happen. Everyone handles coming home differently, and everyone uses the experience differently. But one thing that I will stand firm on is that studying abroad was an exceptionally positive experience that opened many doors for me whether it be academically, personally, socially, or professionally. Some people are stuck in a very small part of the world for most of their lives, so taking any opportunity to see more of it should be taken up. It’s a big world out there, go see it with an open mind and a desire for the unexpected. Then come back with wisdom of a world far different from yours, because that makes all the difference.