The first weeks of a post-abroad semester are filled with friends, acquaintances, and peripheral figures asking about one’s time spent outside of his or her homeland. These questions, prompted by genuine interest or social protocol, must be answered in the same way. As the semester deepens and the subject runs dry, talk of abroad eventually recedes into an occasional conversation piece that one might timidly reference, fully aware of the social dangers of frequenting the topic. But, for a time, in those first few weeks, one is forced to consider his or her tenure overseas. If just for the sake of responding adequately, an evaluation must be made and several memorable experiences be brought forth as evidence.
I have two distinct responses to retrospection about my experiences. The first is a gut reaction. It comes quickly, unconsciously, and without any depth of thought. Certain keywords such as “France,” “study abroad,” or anything else that may pertain to my time in Paris can trigger memories and subsequent positive reactions to those memories. Much like a reflex, the positive associations flow quickly and without any deliberate intention to call them to mind. This reaction influences my responses to questions posed in passing or to those whose interest I judge to be cursory.
The second reaction is a much more conscious and intentional consideration. Prompted either by perceived genuine interest from another or my own casual reflection, lengthy consideration produces a much more neutral, calculated response. This often leads me to perceive the experience as “useful,” and one unlikely to be highlighted in any study abroad pamphlets in the near future. Importantly, though, this response is notably different from the first.
The second reaction is closer to the mark, however. During my stay in Paris, I was fairly dedicated to conscientiously observing my experiences and regularly recording my reactions to my abroad quotidian. By the end of the semester, my notes showed that I was very ready to come home and that I had been somewhat disappointed with the time already spent. But, this remains something very unknown to my reflex response, despite having arrived at this second conclusion a multitude of times. The first reaction, positive in its outlook, has stayed. . . .
Over the years, Local has reported the good, the bad, and the ugly of readjusting to life and school after studying abroad. The range of opinion expressed by our reporters mirrors the polar reactions from students returning from NYU’s portal campuses to Washington Square Park: from PSAD(Post-Study Abroad Depression) to enthusiastically reinforced patriotism.
After spending the spring semester in Madrid, I experienced both extremes. One moment, I would be wandering aimlessly down the pee-perfumed sidewalks of lower Broadway, longing for jamón serrano (Spanish for wonderfully fattening, greasy, ethereal pig meat) and dazzling Dalí-esqueMadrid skies and the next, worshipping the ever underrated 8 am cart coffee and basking in the balmy breeze drifting off the moonlit Hudson.
Nonetheless, the cold, hard, quotidian transitions that I and, from what I have gathered, my fellow post-abroad peers consistently held in common were academic rather than cultural. “Coming back from Madrid, the most difficult part was readjusting to a rigorous scholastic environment,” says Izzy Hogenkamp, a CAS Junior. “In returning to New York, I found that Madrid had undone a lot of my well-established my study habits–most importantly prioritizing and time management–and now I’m working on getting them back.”
Similar to Izzy, I too felt overwhelmed and underprepared for the work that this fall threw unceremoniously in my lap. I found myself unable to slurp down a couple of quick, one euro glasses of cava before art history or spend the weekend skinny dipping in Valencia. Instead, I was forced to spend my time chugging four dollar lattés on rainy weeknights, hauled up in Bobst’sunwelcoming stacks.
And yet, from a countering perspective, many abroad site veterans feel nostalgic for the unique academic structure of NYU’s abroad campuses. Jess Herrera, who is now studying at NYU’s Washington D.C. campus said, “It was really weird transitioning from being abroad to being back in America in general. Studying ‘away’ at the D.C. campus this semester has made me appreciate the academic standards at Madrid. I think I learned a lot more last semester than I have this fall.”
Like Jess, Junior Will Shwartz praises the one-of-a-kind opportunities of abroad academics: “As someone who’s learning a foreign language,” says Will, who is being modest and is actually proficient in Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, French, and English, “nothing I have ever learned in a classroom can compare to living in a country where you’re immersed in the language, especially in the cultural colloquialisms.” . . .
For people who love to travel, the thought of home is often secondary, if not downright loathsome or terrifying. While we wile away at our 9-5′s or type up that next term paper, our minds so often wander abroad.
It’s to be expected of course. Travel perpetually offers excitement, new experiences, and the freshness of being in an unfamiliar place: that oh-so-pleasant over-stimulation. It’s the wonderful distraction from our normally mundane daily living.
Travel offers more than escape from our lives, however. In fact, travel can make us appreciate our homes in ways we might never have thought. While we’re at home daydreaming of adventures overseas, thinking of all the things we can’t wait to get away from, we’re often forgetting to look right under our noses at the conveniences and beauties of our own home. Funny enough, never can this become more clear than when we’re away, looking at home from the other side.
Here are eight things you might discover about home the next time you take off on that big trip:
1. That special “local’s knowledge” you never knew you had
What we take for granted at home may astound us when we travel. Upon landing we’re suddenly thrust into completely unfamiliar surroundings. The formerly simple now confounds, the known now unknown. How do I pay for a ticket on the bus? Is this neighborhood safe at night? Where’s the local spot for cheap beer?
When we’re traveling, we remember how much we know about our home and how sweet it is to be a local.
At home, we navigate the bus system without a thought, and we know which nights of the week churn out the live music. Knowledge of the best burger in town is an innate part of our being.
Why is it always best to ask the locals for advice? Because where we live runs in our veins. When we’re traveling, we remember how much we know about our home and how sweet it is to be a local.
2. Your own backyard
There are French art museums and Egyptian pyramids. You go to Peru to go hiking, hit those Thai beaches to soak up the sun, and go on safari in Africa. The world offers us so much it’s impossible to ignore. How come we often ignore all those treasures that our own cities and countries bestow us?
When you’re traveling, it may dawn on you how much you’ve missed right where you live.
If you’ve never “traveled” your own country before, traveling in others may open your eyes to the possibilities. There you are, an American hiking in Nepal, yet you’ve never seen the Rockies? You may find yourself alone, Irish, marveling at colonial architecture in Mexico when you suddenly realize that you pass by older, equally beautiful buildings on the way to work every day.
When you’re traveling, it may dawn on you how much you’ve missed right where you live, and you may find yourself making plans to discover the attractions listed in our own town’s tourist brochure.