Friday, 21 October 2016

An Epilogue: Post Exchange Blues

It's been about six months since I left Calgary and I felt it important to write a little something about life post exchange and how it feels to return 'home'. My last blog post about studying abroad was titled 'The Final Chapter' which I, at the time, felt tied up all the loose ends of my exchange and summarised the experience as a whole. However, when writing that piece, I neglected to consider the epilogue; that the experience of studying and living abroad in Calgary would have a much more profound impact on me and affect my life upon return in ways I never expected or truly anticipated.

First things first, leaving Calgary was heartbreaking. I felt truly truly sad. My poor brother had come over to North America to have an epic adventure with me and for the first few days in New York I was terrible company. I felt it difficult to smile, to enjoy my time with him in this crazy city. All I wanted to do was cry. I hadn't realised just how hard it would be to say goodbye to the people and the place that had become my home for the previous 8 months. To acknowledge that I would never again return to that normality, that day to day life that I had in Calgary. I was also sad to leave behind people who I saw everyday, who I'd started to care about deeply, whose friendship could have developed so much more than it was able to in the time constraints. As I said, I was truly, truly sad.

Landing on UK soil didn't bring the same inexorable excitement as it had done at Christmas time, or as I'd hoped it would. Instead, I looked out of the window of the plane and felt numb. I wanted to be back to my normality and I didn't know what that was. I wanted to feel at home but I didn't know where that was either. I didn't even feel happy to see my parents who I hadn't seen in months. I felt guilty and yet unfeeling. It was horrible. I felt this way on and off for the next month, until I went on my next adventure to Eday, which was definitely what I needed at that time. I had thought I would feel happy to be home, to be back in the UK, to see my friends and my family again, and I was to a certain extent, but I felt so out of place. I felt like a jigsaw piece that no longer fitted into the puzzle. I was annoyed at myself for feeling so miserable, but that's how I felt. Miserable.

A friend of mine went travelling for 10 weeks and returned around the same time as I returned from Canada. She shared this article titled 'The Hardest Part Of Travelling No One Talks About' and I read it and felt such a wave of relief. It was true. When you return back to your home country, all you want to do is tell people about your time away. Somehow everything you want to say relates to your time studying abroad. I found myself saying, 'When I was in Calgary...', 'Oh my friend in Calgary...', 'Yeah, in Calgary...' and then chastised myself for saying it, tried to stop myself from sounding like a broken record because after five minutes, no-one is all that interested in what life was like in Calgary. Or at least that's how it seemed. It feels like while you've spent all this time away, growing and changing, everyone and everything you left behind has stayed absolutely still. Or maybe that some people have done their own changing, but on another path, away from you. Things aren't the same, yet it feels as if you're trying to fit into the same mould that was there when you left and unfortunately that normality doesn't exist anymore. It's hard to describe, but the world feels so different, so much bigger and you've had all these experiences, you've met all these people from all over the world, you've seen new places, you've had your eyes widened, your perspectives altered, your life completely and utterly changed and to presume that everything will be the same is somehow ignorant.

I'd say that keeping busy and making sure you push yourself to continue trying new things helps. Being back at Lancaster has also been a strange transition. It feels familiar yet so different at the same time. Things have changed and friendship groups have parted ways, so I urge anyone who's in the same position to try new things and maintain some of the old too. Rejoin societies, get yourself back into the swing of things, but acknowledge that you've changed and so have people around you, so don't beat yourself up too much if you feel things aren't the same as they were when you left, because you're not either. Make some new friends, go to the Study Abroad events held to reintegrate you back because you'll meet other people who are going through the exact same thing. Allow yourself to feel sad and miss your home away from home, but don't spend your time wallowing too much, because there's so much more you have yet to do.

Until the next time,


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