Home at last.
I apologize for the delay, as I got in Friday afternoon only to head straight to my sister’s graduation party, then yesterday - both in an effort to stay awake and spend some much needed time with my mom, I headed to Woodfield Mall on the way back from dropping my dad at the airport (he’s almost finished with his insane travel schedule).
Quickly: I haven’t had a terrible time, yet, acclimating back to the United States. My sleep seems alright, no atrocious jet lag or anything, and I am even okay with driving on the right side of the road. True, I haven’t been around for long, though I have been around a lot of people in a short amount of time (with Kiah’s graduation party, it was even people that I hadn’t seen in a long time, even before I went abroad). The biggest shock, for me, so far, came when having lunch at Culver’s yesterday before my dad left, as the one thing I really wanted when I got home was a root beer float - you can’t get root beer in the UK unless you go the American section in a candy shop. There are a lot of heavy people in Sycamore. Perhaps in the state in general, in the Midwest in general, and the US in general, but it wasn’t something I a) was prepared for and b) thought I would need to prepare myself for. It made me extremely self conscious. Anyway.
I haven’t had much time to process ‘being home’, which means I haven’t had much time to process ‘being away’. In many ways, I have only returned home from another home, one with a bigger time difference to my relatives and friends, where I was only forty minutes from a coast, and I shared a kitchen with thirteen others (except for those blissful days at the end of the semester).
I don’t know that I’ve changed that much, in the conventional sense. I also, however, think it is much harder to gage changes in one’s self. I’m with myself everyday, so incremental changes don’t get noticed, even if the end result it radically different than where I started. Someone else will have to let me know. That being said: I have gained confidence in certain areas (I say certain because I remain woefully without confidence in others). I am able to get around other countries, plan my own way, know what it will cost, how to get there. I am more willing to talk to new people, though perhaps ‘talk to’ should be replaced with ‘listen to’. I don’t do much talking but I do like to hear the stories of those around me. And while to some degree I think I was always like that, I certainly am more willing to listen if a random person suddenly engages me in a conversation. I am reminded how much I like my solitude, my time to myself. I have tried to take a greater interest in myself, in doing what is enjoyable even if it perhaps doesn’t promote or propel my down a career path or a job or something similar. I have tried to become more comfortable with my free time - and more careful with it. I have tried to appreciate this semester without a job (the first I’ve had since I was 15), to let it remind me of the hard work I have ahead, but also to remind me of how lucky I am that I am employed, that I can even have this opportunity in the first place.
When I went abroad I was sure that the ‘stages’ that every study abroad student goes through were a myth, a series of levels that those who weren’t prepared for another culture went through, regardless of their draw back home or their emotional state or their confidence. I was sure I wouldn’t go through those. I wouldn’t be miserable when I first got there, asking myself why I left my home and what was safe. I wouldn’t gradually get acclimated and settle in. And I wouldn’t love it so much that I never wanted to come home. I would remain in the first stage, the ‘honeymoon phase’, where I loved everything and everything glowed and everyone loved me and I loved everyone and everything made sense. I wouldn’t reach the ‘never want to come home’ phase because I’d be there the entire semester.
Funny how things change. As I thought, I did not go through the conventional stages. (I suppose no one actually does, that they are just a starting point, a general trend.) I did go through my own stages. I struggled at first. I was away from home. I was learning that Brit students are not any more like me than were the students back at UIUC (a fact that sometimes I regard as highlighting my uniqueness, sometimes as a mark of my inability to slide snuggly into society). I had to figure out a new educational system, a new campus, a new town, transportation, living with more people than I ever had before. It was extremely difficult, and I would stress that for any student that wanted to study abroad. It will be harder than you think. Even if, like my friend Amanda, you can’t wait to get away from small children; even if, like me, you just like to go places. It is hard.
Eventually, obviously, I did settle in. I got over my distaste of how far removed UEA was, how far from my friends I was, and while I never quite got comfortable with the abundance of concrete at UEA, I learned to take advantage of my sunny days, get wet when the wind disallowed the use of an umbrella. I became a pro at riding the train, riding the Tube, reciting the stops back from London to Norwich. I knew what I could bring when I didn’t check a bag. I knew which airlines were cheap and you certainly got what you paid for, which were cheap but pretended to be a major airline. I made friends, learned new skills, the hours on campus, the fact that bank holidays will sneak up on you and leave you without a way to get milk. Norwich was home.
In the end, though, I don’t think I ever got to the ‘I don’t want to leave’ stage. Yes, I love Norwich, and I will certainly return, perhaps even live there again. But if I gained anything during my study abroad it was certainly a better appreciation for the United States. Before I left, I was not necessarily an ex-pat still living on US soil, but I was disillusioned with the state of the US. It’s draw was not nearly as appealing to me as, say, Italy or Paris. On some level that’s still true. I don’t think the US can compete with the history of the countries in Europe. But I certainly think the US has much more that I’d taken for granted. We, for example, don’t have a massive struggle to secure a visa. We also don’t have to pay to use public toilets. I think my study abroad gave me a greater appreciation for my home - not just the US, but Illinois, and my small town. I have come home craving the empty spaces, cornfields, long stretches of road, Sears Tower, Michigan Avenue, Ollie’s.
So that is the end of my semester abroad and, as a result, the tentative end to this blog. I have plans to turn it into a general travel blog, record future travels in the same manner that I have been. However, as I have nothing planned in the near or even slightly distant future, at the moment I am logging off The Tattered Passport, putting my own tattered passport in my closet, and preparing as best I can for whatever lies ahead.
Thanks for reading.