I have officially been home for over a week and I’m still not sure how I ended up here or how four months went by in what felt like maybe two weeks. I was welcomed back into the house by our 3 dogs and 4 cats, who made sure I received sufficient snuggles in the time between my arrival and that of my family two days later. It simultaneously feels like nothing has changed and so much has. To be honest, even when my friends get overly excited to see me, I feel underwhelmed because I don’t feel like I was gone for as long as I know I was. I wouldn’t say that I am experiencing reverse culture shock, in fact, my real fear is that I’ll too easily settle back into my old habits and abandon my ambitions to be different and adopt elements of Austrian Alli’s life into American Alli’s life. It is a new year and I am a new me- I want to stay that way. It’s not going to be as easy as I thought.
It seems utterly cliché to say that study abroad changed my life, but I really feel that it did. It opened doors in my life that I didn’t even know existed and exposed me to things I only dreamed of experiencing firsthand before. I’ve eaten authentic Ladurée macarons in Paris. I’ve bathed in a thermal bath in Budapest. I’ve visited the actual Cinderella castle in Germany. I’ve savored pear and pecorino ravioli in Florence. I’ve attended a ball in Vienna. I’ve met with IES Abroad alumni who are back in Vienna living out their dreams in different ways. I have only begun to explore all the places I want to see in this world and experience all the intriguing and diverse cultures it has to offer. While I am now uncertain about what my life will look like immediately following my graduation in 2019, I am certain that I want to return to Europe for another extended period at some point. Perhaps I will get my master’s in Vienna or a German city, or work as a Student Assistant for IES Abroad, or serve as an intern for a church ministry. All I know right now is that I need to go back, and for longer next time. There is so much more out there for me.
However, right now I am back in Texas for at least another year and a half while I complete my bachelor’s degree. I have to admit that as the plane landed on the tarmac at DFW International Airport, I looked out over the flat, barren landscape that is Texas in winter and mourned that it was not the vibrant, green, mountainous terrain of Austria. Instead of being a 3 hour bus ride from Prague or Budapest, I am an hour drive from Waco and a 3 ½ hour drive from Austin. When people ask me how it feels to be back, my response is mixed. I am glad to be home and reuniting with loved ones, but I am also sad, and somewhat apprehensive about returning to my university in a week. There is an entire class of freshmen music majors who have never met/heard of me. I am taking some courses out of sequence to compensate for the semester I “lost” while away. My schedule is much more densely packed than in Vienna and my workload will be heavier. Fort Worth may become a boring and disappointing city to me in comparison to all the places I visited last semester. What if I become restless in my old life? What if I begin to long for more again? Already, seeing posts from other friends and peers who are leaving for their study abroad semesters now is making me wistful.
I can’t live my life in “what ifs,” though, and I can’t become consumed by worries before the semester has even begun. I feel similar anxiety before each new semester, and every time I end up falling back in love with my university and having a successful term. I am not a victim or bystander in my own life. I have the power to decide how I handle my circumstances and now, more than ever before, I am determined to find contentment, and even joy, in another chaotic semester. Austrian Alli was spontaneous and adventurous and relaxed. American Alli was cautious and dedicated and stressed. Here’s to combining the best of both mes, ditching the worst, and making every day an adventure in its own way. Best wishes to all the students going abroad this upcoming semester. Have the time of your life and be prepared to never be the same as you once were.
Peace, love, döner kebap.
*Below and in the gallery are some images from places I traveled to this past semester.*