A foreign language, unbearably warm weather year round and the aroma of cigarettes everywhere you go is supposed to cause homesickness during the first few weeks of studying abroad.
Europe is everything the United States isn’t, but what if “homesickness” doesn’t hit you until six months later, once you land back stateside?
You’re no longer homesick for your mom’s pasta or the peanut butter you can’t buy overseas. Instead, you’re incredibly nostalgic for every moment you just spent 3,000 miles away from “home.”
Studying abroad is one large vacation filled with minimal time studying English literature, replaced by jet-setting on Ryanair throughout Europe.
It’s the one time in your life you’re allowed to put academics second and social life first so as to become “cultured” and more aware of the world around you for a few months.
From touring the Colosseum in Rome to sailing through the fjord in Norway to dancing until 4 am in a Dublin club, studying abroad only happens once in your life. It’s a six-month vacation where you can’t remember half of the incredible memories you made.
What happens, though, when studying abroad impacts you far beyond your extended vacation? What happens when your experience in Europe clashes with your reality when you are back home and no one seems to understand what you’re going through?
It’s like a reverse culture shock.
Coming back to college should be easy. You’re finally back on campus with your friends, enjoying the holidays with your family and adjusting back to your normal day-to-day activities, which include academics.
Something is holding you back though from enjoying these precious moments, though. You can’t seem to forget what happened to you during the past six months.
You replay the hours upon hours of memories wrapped in your head: dancing after hours at your favorite London club, reading in the Paris bookstore James Joyce used to visit and walking the path to the city center with your flat mates.
Most importantly, you weren’t supposed to fall in love abroad. Whether you fell in love with the Irish boy you kissed at the pub one October evening and Skyped with every day for nearly three years after, or simply fell in love with your host country, it is easy to fall in love while studying abroad.
It’s not something you should be ashamed of; for a brief, sweet moment, it was your reality.
Many people see studying abroad as a “rite of passage” as an undergraduate. It’s an era in life when you’re allowed to do as you please, kiss and not tell, ignore your final paper until the night before and spend weekends in other countries you can’t even pronounce.
There is, however, so much more to studying abroad than drinking and partying.
This is a time to learn more about yourself. Step out of your comfort zone by eating dinner by yourself at a local restaurant, book a weekend getaway without your friends and don’t be afraid to stay in your host country for an extra weekend while your flat mates go to Portugal.
Most importantly, don’t be afraid to fall in love. It may sound clichéd, but if you fall in love with a European, don’t let the distance or opinions of others keep you from following your heart.
No one will fully understand the experience you had while you lived in Ireland, France, England or Spain.
These memories you created with either the one you love or the country you fell in love with will always be yours and yours only to keep.
It’s okay to be sad when you look at pictures years later and shed a tear. It’s not fantasy world. For those four, six, or twelve months, it was your reality. It’s a reality that will always be a part of you.
It’s okay to have a playlist of all your favorite study abroad jams that you rocked out to until the wee hours of the morning, and it’s okay to view the typical college bars you and your besties line up for as boring.
You will have no other time in your life like the time you just had. And, there’s no easy way to cure reverse culture shock. Instead, embrace the time you had across the pond and realize those memories are memories no one can ever take away from you.
Ireland, Spain, England or whatever country you visited will always be there. But, it wont ever be the same, just as you won’t be the same upon returning from studying abroad.