It is truly unbelievable how quickly these 5+ months have gone by. There are so many things that we saw and did that I never had a chance to tell you about (Fox Glacier, Paparoa’s tropical forests, Arthur’s Pass, Oamaru’s high tea and steampunk, the rugby game when we won, dinners out, and nights out dancing, starry walks on the boardwalk, achievements and disappointments at school, marine dissections and the fishing trip, meeting a weka, our Speight’s tour, Tunnel beach, Larnach Castle, and a million other things). Instead, as my last post, I want to tell you more broadly about what this experience has meant to me.
Life abroad is a lot like life at home, and at the same time it is very different. There are still the days when you wake up not wanting to get out of bed. There are still the days when you just want to watch TV and do nothing. But the wonderful part about being abroad is that most of your days are distilled, concentrated versions of life. You cram more into every moment. For the short time that you are away from home, you get a glimpse of what it must be like to get old. You feel like you just don’t have enough time to do and see everything, and so you have to experience the most you can before the clock runs out. I think you appreciate each moment more, because you know that this weird, transient, indescribable part of your life is always slipping away, and one day very soon it will be gone, and you’ll be on the plane home.
But you don’t just gain appreciation for now, you also gain a nostalgic appreciation of home. You miss silly little things that shouldn’t matter. Like food that you are fairly certain you didn’t even like that much at home. Or your pillow. Or your cat waking you up at 8am because he feels, quite frankly, that you have slept long enough.
Do you want to hear the wonderful part? Unlike when you get old and really have run out of time, this time, you can go back. You can take all those nostalgic memories and go relive them. Sure, they won’t be the exact same, you will have changed from your time abroad, but you can still go back home and taste those foods again, and hug those friends again, and move back into your apartment. You can actually go back to your big family gatherings with new appreciation and enjoy the company. I guess it is true that absence really does make the heart grow fonder. Going abroad gives you a chance to put your life into perspective, and to see all the wonderful parts of your life from a sort of “outsider’s” view.
Last time I went abroad, I struggled. It was really hard to be away from everyone I loved and to feel all alone. The culture shock felt like fire in my chest. I hated the local people, I missed home, and I just wanted to go back. And then? I let go of all the anger and frustration, and I just let the culture in. And I fell in love. I met new people, ate new foods, immersed myself in the language. I stopped fighting everything that was different, and I just accepted that there was an opportunity for me to be different too. I learned, and grew, and met people who have become a part of who I am.
I went home and I didn’t know how to communicate with the locals. Strange isn’t it? Canada felt cold and foreign. It was both suffocating (people everywhere speaking loud obnoxious English), and lonely (the people I had learned to lean on were gone, and the language I had to speak seemed inadequate). Just as the culture shock hit me hard, so did the reverse culture shock when I got home.
So you might say to yourself, “That sounds terrible, I don’t want to feel like that!” You actually do want to feel like that, you just don’t know it yet. Almost everyone gets culture shock while abroad, and most people feel wonky when they get home too. But this shouldn’t be a reason not to go! I never learned so much about myself as during that first trip. I grew so much that I came home a different person. When I did come home, many friends said things to me like “I’m so jealous of you! You’re so lucky!” Sure, I was fortunate to have met so many loving, wonderful people while I was there.
But let me tell you a secret: it wasn’t luck. I made it happen. I took the plunge and I bought the tickets. I looked back, I won’t say I didn’t. Looking back now, though, I am so glad I went. If you attend a university, you are wasting your time staying at your home university. Go abroad! You will never have a better chance to go abroad for so cheap or with so much support (for dealing with the emotional roller coaster). I can’t state it any more clearly. If you are reading this, thinking, “I’d really love to go, but…” then stop saying but and do it! If you aren’t part of a university, then it will be an even bigger adventure, won’t it!
This time, for many reasons, my culture shock has been small. It is in part because the culture is not so different, and the people speak my language (more or less). It is probably in part because this time I’m not alone, I brought Andrew with me. This time I had a community in which to belong: my university. Maybe it was just easier because this time I was ready for it: I expected culture shock. But what ever it is, I have had the chance to learn about myself, meet new people, and see a part of the world that is so beautiful and unique, and usually so inaccessible. I have lived more in these few months than I have in the last two years. It has still had it’s hard moments. I have still missed home, but it is all worth it. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
My next trip will be to Greenland or Scotland… or Brazil. Or maybe Malaysia. Or Croatia! Meet me there?
P.S. If you have any questions about my experience abroad, feel free to write a question below in the comments!