Life after Studying Abroad

A lot of people and websites help you begin your study abroad experience, but few actually prepare you for life after going abroad. Even now, more than three months later, I’m still not quite sure how to explain the after-experience. It’s manifested and expressed itself in unexpected moments:

  • The first time you use your debit card in eight months, you have to contemplate and delete the PIN three times before you get the right combination.
  • After both you and your mother can’t finish a small cup of ice cream, you realize how truly huge American serving sizes are.
  • Sometimes an awkward silence falls between you and your friends, because even though you’ve known them for years, how do you fill an eight-month gap? But at the same time, you can’t remember the last time you laughed so hard, your stomach hurt and you could barely breathe.
  • When you listen to “Take Me to Church” by Hozier, you discover that it’s emotionally painful, because it takes you right back to the time you went to Rome for spring break, where you ate a slice of zucchini and tomato pizza while sitting in a tiny restaurant with orange, floral-patterned tablecloths.
  • You’re reading a book that’s set in London, and as the author begins describing the narrow streets, you can’t stop the smile spreading across your lips, because now you can picture those narrow streets perfectly.
  • You visit Virginia Beach, which thankfully has sand, but the water looks so pitifully gray compared to the Mediterranean.
  • Using each letter of your name, your friend makes you a playlist “for dreaming of big stories and bigger adventures,” and you’re not sure whether you want to cry or smile.
  • At your public library, you finally find the miniscule French section, but your excitement quickly fades away because none of the books are actually written in French.
  • You reread one of your favorite books, set in Paris, and it takes on a whole new meaning while making you incredibly nostalgic. It mentions that someone who stands on Point Zéro is destined to return to Paris someday, and you wonder if that’s true. You hope it is.
  • A potential employer informs you she really wants to hire you for their cheese department because of your “European experience,” somehow assuming that you must know a lot about cheese after spending a year abroad in France.
  • Spelling used to come effortlessly to you, but now you, after all that French, find yourself pausing while writing in English, wondering if you spelled a word correctly.
  • After months trapped at home in the suburbs without a car, you have never missed public transportation more.
  • You spend several minutes staring sadly at the exorbitant prices of textbooks. How can one textbook possibly cost the same as an entire week’s worth of groceries?
  • A book touches a special place in your heart when its setting changes to Rome because of two quotes: “‘It makes me feel so small. Well, not me. But my life, you know?’” and “Rome was under their nails, in their hair, and…they would never be able to wash it out: and that even if they could, they would never want to.”
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