What It’s Like Coming Home From Study Abroad

A shot of London’s magnificent Big Ben Clock Tower in City of Westminster, England.
(Courtesy of Tyler Burdick)

A shot of London’s magnificent Big Ben Clock Tower in City of Westminster, England. (Courtesy of Tyler Burdick)

By TYLER BURDICK
Asst. Opinions Co-Editor
Published: February 11, 2015

I have never been much of a risk taker, but college is a time to overcome obstacles and grow as human beings. And so, as an English major, when I saw that Fordham was offering a liberal arts program in London, I realized that declining this offer would only harm me. Naturally, I was frightened about leaving the country for the first time, but a few face-to-face talks with friends who had studied abroad as well as with Joseph Rienti, the assistant director of International & Study Abroad Programs,  convinced me that few people, if any at all, return from their experiences abroad and wish that they had never gone in the first place. “You’ve lived in New York City for a while now, right? London’s just like it. It’ll feel just like home. There’s even a ‘Whole Foods’ a couple blocks down from where you’ll be studying,” Rienti told me. It seems like a small, simple thing but it took a lot of the edge off, and sometimes it’s the small things that remind you that any place can become what you make it, and any place can be made home. That talk got me on the plane to London. 

But what ultimately does happen when you return home from a semester abroad? Well, this is where it’s important to keep things in perspective. For me, the two hardest days of my experience were the day I left home and the day I came back. 

There are a lot of things that rush through your mind as you wait for that plane, and in many regards, they can comprise the longest hours yet experienced in your life. I had the luxury of having my family with me at the airport as I waited, but in some way, that made it more painful as I looked upon their faces and realized that I would not see these people in person again for the next four months. I wondered if there are things I should say before I left, if there are still some tidbits of wisdom to be gained. Then suddenly I looked up and saw that the plane was leaving in 40 minutes. I got in line and slowly moved towards the podium where passports and fingerprints are checked. All the while my family was in eyeshot, waving to me every so often to let me know they were still there. Then I turned a corner and they were gone. 

The plane ride itself didn’t prove to be much better. The hours dwindled away and gave rise to doubts; when you land in the middle of a foreign country, what would you do? How would you get to where you need to go? Would they be kind there? Would they accept you? When I did land, I was greeted with the general welcome of unfamiliarity in the form of everything from the brand names and companies (Barclays? What is that?) that surrounded me down to the strange-looking power outlets that required me to purchase adaptors for all the appliances I brought me, and it all hit me so quickly that the world felt absolutely alien. This is what went through my mind when I touched down at Heathrow Airport in London, and as I frantically ran around the airport, trying to find the meeting point where a member of the program would rendezvous with me as a voice with a distinctly British accent listed departures and arrivals, I was petrified of missing the rendezvous point altogether and being forced to navigate this strange new city and locate my accommodations on my own. Fortunately, this did not happen; I found the meeting point just fine, I found other people, students and administrators alike, that were taking part in my program. Suddenly there was strength in numbers. We all sat in a bus that took us directly to the flats where we would be spending our term. As we passed the English fields and highways and into the city proper, I noticed how different everything looked, from the wide open scenery to the license plates on the cars themselves. Then we entered the city, and suddenly the mass concentrations of buildings seemed to give me some comfort. “Well, here we go,” I told myself. I’m happy to say that the city got less and less alien from that point on. The transportation system was as familiar to me as the subway in New York, and thanks to maps, apps and a general desire for exploration, I one day knew the city like the back of my hand. Looking back, I suppose a pool seems the coldest when you first try to gingerly dip your toes in. Change is new, change is uncertain and change can be scary. Change can also be unwelcome, especially if we are unsure that we can ever regain what we are giving up, but in my experience, that simply isn’t the case. Everything I left behind, everyone I loved and cared about, was waiting for me with open arms the day my plane touched down onto American soil, and by now, my life has returned to the normal routine in which I was accustomed before I had left.

But I knew all of this would happen months before I even returned home. I kept in contact with my friends and family often; enough that I developed enough confidence in the details of my eventual return that I did not feel the need to rush home in some haze of desperation just to ensure that everything remained exactly as I had left it. I am fortunate for this, as it allowed me to enjoy where I was during the time I was there. They say if you blink you’ll miss out on a precious moment of life, but the exact same result will happen if your eyes aren’t even pointed in the right direction. 

Which brings me to the other hardest day of my experience; the day I had to return home. Due to the late hour of my flight, I was the last person in my flat in London to leave. I stood in front of the door, bags in hand, as I glanced back at the now dark and empty abode that had only a few hours ago been bustling with activity. My keys joined the others that had been left atop the counter for the super, and my mind raced as I tried to think of whether or not I forgot anything. I dropped my bags and doubled back, checking every room and every nook and cranny to assure myself of my own thoroughness. It was at this moment that it began to dawn on me that as soon as I had passed through the threshold of the front door I would no longer be able to return. That flat would forever be out of my reach.

I think that, no matter where you are, there’s always a certain sense of “the grass is always greener” syndrome. When the idea of studying abroad in various locations across the world seems exciting and exotic in theory, it quickly turns into gut-wrenching terror when the day arrives and you actually have to get on the plane. Similarly, once you get there, you start to miss all the nuances and little details that made home home. Unconsciously, you start comparing things: “Oh, back home we wouldn’t drive on that side of the road. Oh, back home I wouldn’t have assigned seating when I went to the theatre. Oh, back home all the restaurants wouldn’t close at five o’clock in the afternoon. Oh, back home we wouldn’t have such a magnificent palace filled with pomp and grandeur in the open for all to see.” And yes, this makes you miss home, but guess what? The exact same thing happens upon your return. Even now, as I type this in the safety of my apartment in New York City, I cannot help but miss the flat I once resided in in London and think back to all the details that gave London its unique flavor.

If there’s one thing I learned, it is that we must appreciate the experiences we are offered during the limited time we are given to experience them. Sure we get homesick, sure there are times we wish we were somewhere else, but it’s important to remember that these feelings are as fleeting as the wind. I do not regret, even for a moment, my decision to study abroad in London, and I would offer my highest recommendation to anyone considering anything of the like.