I feel like I was never there.
Before I studied abroad, I’m going to assume I heard this statement a lot, although I don’t remember it. The only reason why I’m figuring this is because I’ve said it at least five times in the past week, and I’m not the only one. Every person I know who goes away comes back and says, I feel like it was just a dream.
Today I saw a friend who graduated a few months ago who went away during his sophomore year of college, quite some time ago, and one of the first things he asked me today was “How was your time abroad,” odd since I came back six months ago and most people don’t casually ask about it anymore. As always, one of my first statements was that the whole thing felt surreal, which usually pours out of my mouth when I try to sum up my experience and I realize that I just sound like a blubbering idiot.
I’ve heard it a lot (as stated before), but my old friend put it in a way that was a little odd to me, more than just “Wow it was so awesome to run around a random country for three months!”
He said, “When I came home, it took me a solid year to come to terms with what I had done and what I had accomplished. It wasn’t that it was dreamy or incredibly amazing, it was just so surreal.”
He continued to explain that he studied abroad through his community college, not the university that he later attended and where I met him. Obviously, since community college isn’t your typical study abroad outlet, he was the only one to participate in the program that semester at all. The nervousness that goes along with this was only accentuated when the school called him up and said he had been accepted into the program, however, they didn’t have housing for him, and instead, handed him a list of people to call.
When he got to Australia, he called up one of the people on his list, and sure enough, one man had actually stayed home to take his expected call, something unheard of in America, and had space available for him to rent. The 6’5 rugby player also didn’t mind lending the 5’5 skinny pre-med student some clothes when the airport lost his luggage for ten days.
My friend stayed in Newcastle, not Sydney, which is a lot rougher of a town than beautiful and touristy Sydney is since it is a coal-mining town filled with blue-collar workers and some accompanied crime. Him and his landlord friend also housed various couch surfers throughout the semester who cooked for them and took them out on the town, being as thankfully, Australians appreciate the joy and beauty of travel and they don’t mind helping out a fellow traveler in need.
Study abroad shouldn’t only consist of drinking, asking people what the WiFi password is, and figuring out what countries have the best clubs. It’s not an experience that should necessarily mark “the best time of your life,” but perhaps, the most exciting and the most wrought with change. This is what makes study abroad surreal- not the parties and the people you meet who happen to live in your state. Instead, it is the unique life that you undertook for a dramatic, outrageous, and unreal time of your college years.