I remember when I went to study abroad for the first time. It was my freshman fall semester, and I was going to London. I was filled with unbridled excitement and, despite some anxiety from my parents, I couldn’t wait to go. I didn’t worry about the flight, or the visa (because I didn’t need one), or really anything about academics. I looked at the Facebook page for the London group every day, I checked my fancy new Skidmore email any chance I got, and I triple-checked my luggage before heading out. When I arrived at Skidmore for my pre-London orientation, I met a bunch of new people, some freshmen, some upper classmen, all talking about London. We talked nothing but London, London, and London. There was a brief moment of terror when we were told how strenuous our classes would be, how much work we would have to put into them, but that passed fairly quickly. The night before we left, my fellow London students and I watched all watched Bend it Like Beckham together. It was awesome.
I remember when I came back from my first semester abroad. It wasn’t really coming back at all, because, apart from the brief three-day orientation, I had spent barely any time at Skidmore. I showed up to campus, found my room, and said goodbye to my parents. I went to the dinner that Skidmore planned for us and I met up with all the friends I had made during my last semester in London. Then the rest all blurs together. New classes, only one of which I shared with said friends. New clubs, of which I only went to a few meetings. New job at dining hall, which got in the way of going to all those new clubs. But the thing that still stands out to me, three years later, is the cold. I’ve lived in New England my entire life, and so Saratoga weather was nothing new to me. Still, because of the cold, everyone stayed inside. I only ever saw people outside when they were going to class, and no one wants to make friends in the five minutes before Twentieth Century Europe. Even after spending three months in London, I never felt lost in a crowd until I came to Skidmore. Eventually it got better, but those first few weeks were rough.
I remember the second time I was getting ready to study abroad. I was at Skidmore, finishing up my sophomore year. I planned on spending my year in Madrid with Skidmore in Spain. It hardly even felt real, filling out the application, choosing my courses, filling out surveys about where I wanted to live, what I wanted my host family to be like, what sort of internship I wanted to take—I wanted to work in a fancy wine and cheese shop, for the record—and how many classes I wanted to take at the program center. Most of my friends were doing the same things—being a London freshman breeds wanderlust—so it felt like the only thing that mattered was going abroad. Throughout all of this, my parents kept asking me two questions: “Are you nervous?” and “Are you excited?” I didn’t feel nervous in the slightest. I had done this all before, and I knew the ins and outs. The challenge of living in a county with a primary language that was not my own thrilled me. I was better than excited. I was ready.
I remember coming back from abroad at the start of my senior year. Despite my high-minded idea to immerse myself in Spanish for a year, I had decided to spend my spring semester somewhere else, and, by some minor miracle, ended up in Denmark. And so I came back from some more metropolitan capitols of Europe, wizened and full of new experiences, or, at least, I thought so. I got tired of being in Europe until I spent about three minutes back in the United States. When I got back to Skidmore, I got lost so much that I felt like a first year again, not helped by the fact that I was living in an apartment for the first time and still had no idea how to navigate Northwoods. Then everybody started to come back to Skidmore too, or come to Skidmore for the first time, in the case of the incoming freshmen. I realized that I had no chance of knowing fully half the people at Skidmore, counting those first-years as well as the sophomore class that I’d spent my junior year avoiding. Thankfully, I did know some people this time, juniors and seniors all. Plenty of those juniors were themselves now abroad, and so I hung out with all the seniors who had just come back, same as me. And I once again found myself on an island, this time surrounded by a circle of people, each one of us begging, pleading, to go back abroad.
Leaving is easy. Coming back is hard. Both times have their stresses, but the stresses of the former are more about excitement and anticipation, whereas the stresses of the latter deal with coming to the realization, in my case at least, that Skidmore is very, very different than the places I had spent such a long time coming to know. It’s not just the shift from the bustling city to the rural-ish town, but that is a part of it. It’s the politics; Trump got elected while I was abroad. It’s the portion sizes. One of my first meals back from Denmark could have fed me over there for two days. It’s the lack of action; I went from always having something on my plate to doing basically nothing. Admittedly, these are not all problems related to coming back to Skidmore. Coming back in the summer is much better, in my experience, and coming back when you have a support structure of friends already established at the college is leagues better than going it alone. If you’re going abroad, it’s important to know that you’re going to have some readjustment pains coming back. If you’re coming back from abroad, it’s important to know that the readjustment does improve. You will still probably loudly exclaim how much you miss the country or countries you studied in whenever the subject comes up.