Returning from the Other Side of the Pond

Four days from now will mark my one-year anniversary of returning home from my semester abroad in London. It simultaneously seems like a lifetime ago and like it just happened yesterday. I pretty vividly remember the day of my flight home. I had just said goodbye to my friends – some goodbyes were sad, but there was no reason to be sad about saying goodbye to my Skidmore friends, since I was going to see them in a month or so anyway (one of the perks of going on a Skidmore program!). I painstakingly stuffed every last European purchase and present into my already-overpacked luggage, hauled three suitcases with me to the Heathrow airport, and began my journey back to Massachusetts. It was a little weird being in an airport and not getting ready to jet to somewhere insanely cool like Rome or Amsterdam, which I had been used to doing for the past three months, but I was really excited to get home, see my family, and get back to Skidmore. Studying and living in London was amazing, but it was getting a lot colder, and I had a sinus infection, so I was looking forward to being able to exist only for the purpose of catching up on my TV shows.

I was pretty nervous for the seven hour flight. My flight to London in September was a mess – I was squished between two sleeping adult businessmen, I myself couldn’t fall asleep, and I also was not able to move my legs so I was about ready to have a panic attack/start running up and down the aisle screaming. Surprisingly, my flight back home was great! I ended up getting a seat next to one of my really great friends from my program, and we had no idea we were on the same flight, so that was fun! And I got to watch three really great movies in a row, so I had a drastically different seven hour flight experience the second time around. When I got to the airport, I waited awhile to get my luggage, and it was funny because literally everyone on my flight seemed to be a study abroad student returning to the States. When I exited into the area where all of the families were waiting, it was so awesome to see my parents. My mom did run towards me like a reality TV show contestant. It was fun.

When I got to my house, I very clearly remember feeling like I was living in the lap of luxury. Getting my BlackBerry back into my hands was one of the weirdest experiences of my life because I literally felt like an alien examining a long-lost relic of civilization. I had gotten so used to my janky Pay As You Go phone from London that I never fully figured out how to text on, so having my real phone back was like a gift from the gods. Then, when I got to take a shower in my own house, it was magical. The hot water actually worked! I forgot that that was a thing after living in my lovely but interesting flat for three months. As a side note, I also ended up getting mono and strep throat when I came back from being abroad, which was not ideal. London did a number on my immune system, probably because there were too many exciting things for me to do in favor of actually staying home and resting when I did get sick.

One weird thing about coming back from abroad is that literally everyone you know will ask the same question. “How was London?!?” they ask enthusiastically, as I blinked back incompetently through my mono-induced haze. Obviously, everyone who asks this question has good intentions. But, for me, it was a particularly hard question to answer. It’s not easy to sum up an entire three months in a quick response. Living in London was one of the most difficult experiences of my life, but it was also one of the best. I’ve realized more and more every day over the past year how much it forced me to grow up, learn what I love and what I value, and really discover the person that I am and want to become. I say all of these things at the risk of sounding cliché, but they really are true. Being in London was amazing – I saw some of the best theater that I’ve ever seen, made lifelong friends, explored foreign countries, and conquered the Tube. But I felt as though answering that question with a simple “It was great!” is also kind of hiding the full truth of my time there, because it was also really, really challenging. I missed my friends and family and struggled not being able to easily communicate with them, I missed Skidmore and being a part of the Theater Department, and I kept getting strep throat (seriously, I got it like three times, and it was a mess). However, sharing that my time abroad was anything less than spectacular made me feel a little bit ungrateful, like this should have been the most awe-inspiring experience of my life, and I was wrong to not believe that. But my experience was personal and transformative in its own way. So I found this question complicated to answer. I realized that some people, like my best friends from home, would want to hear the full reply – good and bad – while others, like my next door neighbor, could maybe get an abbreviated response.

Once I was (mostly) cured of my mono, coming back to Skidmore was definitely interesting. I had missed being here so much when I was away, but, spring semester, it kind of felt like a whole new foreign country. School had been happening for half a year without us all, and everyone was having a great time, which was weird to step into. I remember when I went to the first Theater Department meeting in the spring, where I usually feel surrounded by all of my best friends on the planet, I felt really isolated. I felt like I didn’t know who anyone was, and I felt insecure that they were all perfectly fine continuing on without the junior class. This, of course, was not true, but it took a bit of time for me to get back into the groove, to meet all of the new freshmen, and to revive my friendships that had mostly been on pause for three months. It’s also definitely different to have all of these members of your class gone during junior year; a bunch of my best friends were abroad for a different semester than me, so I barely saw them for a year. But, back on campus, all it takes is some deep breathing, some focus, and some adjustment, and soon I was feeling welcomed and elated to be back at my Skidmore home. Also, it was so great having my Shakespeare Programme family here with me. We hang out and reminisce all the time, and it really helps to have people close to me from such a crazy and amazing time in my life, a time that we all shared together.

Gina Doherty ’14 studied on the Skidmore Shakespeare Programme in the fall 2012 semester.

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