Everyone talks a lot about going away, the challenges and excitements of going abroad and all the stories you will come back with. And so they should. Spending time abroad can be some of the best experiences of your life, they form you and challenge you in ways few others things can, but there’s always the constant, dull reminder of your return tossing and turning in the back of your head. It’s not a bad thing, in fact in my experience, that tossing and turning was a friendly reminder not only to make the most out of everything study abroad had to offer me but also everything I had waiting back at home.
Now I was tentative on my return, there was a lot of people to see and a lot had happened in the year I’d been away. I felt the excitement drain as I got off the plane at Heathrow and mostly anxiety took over; I wasn’t quite prepared to relive everything I’d just left or tell the ins-and-outs of my time at Temple University in Philadelphia. Nevertheless I greeted my mum and it all came spilling out. The return was simple, until I got the dreaded and wildly uncomfortable, “you’ve changed” – what could I possible say to that? Yes? No? Oh really? There’s no easy response. I just sat there and shrugged trying to remember myself 10 months beforehand.
The truth is, people will say this. They will tell you that you’ve changed and that there’s something different. Most of that will be the stories you tell now don’t include them, there’s an alienation, a detachment from a life that you created for yourself with entirely different people that makes you seem like an entirely different person yourself. Don’t be offended, chances are you will have changed. Studying abroad makes you grow up in a matter of weeks, makes you realise that some things are just too trivial to worry about. When everything you know is a world away, the state of your kitchen doesn’t seem as concerning as it did in second year. It’s not that you’re no longer you or that you’ve conformed so much to some other place that your friends can’t recognise you anymore, it’s just that you’ve had to adapt, had to be in a world that they were not in and be a functioning human being in an entirely new place. ‘You’ve changed’ isn’t always easy, but it should never be bad.
Embrace your change, embrace the way the world around you has shaped you into someone complex and layered, don’t dismiss the great waves of wonder that can be bought into a person through a small bit of change. People will either change with you, or they will fall a little behind. That’s the beauty of it though; they may catch up one day.