The Truth About Life After Abroad

Clare Hogan
January 10, 2022

Being back in South Carolina after traveling around France for a semester has been…interesting. I don’t have another adjective to really describe it, honestly. It hasn’t been horrible, but it hasn’t been the most fun, either. I guess I’ll start by letting you know that I was scheduled to be in Europe until the 26th of December with my dad, traveling around France and Switzerland and meeting up with some of the friends I made abroad and their families. However, that got cancelled due to the rising numbers of COVID-19 cases. Honestly, I’m not even angry at my trip being cancelled. COVID has taken a huge toll on many people’s lives, and if a cancelled trip is the worst it gets for me, I’ll consider myself lucky. However, I won’t lie and say it’s been completely easy.

When I first got back, I was so exhausted, I honestly didn’t have many initial thoughts. My extended family surprised me at the Atlanta airport and took me to dinner. I really enjoyed that and appreciated it, but it was definitely a struggle to even keep my eyes open after I-don’t-even-know-how-many hours of travel and stress. My jetlag took a couple days to wear off, but honestly, it wasn’t that bad. I just got some…extra early starts to my days. It was exciting having everyone ask me questions about my experience as if I had been on some exciting adventure, because it made me feel like I had done something exciting when it had become a bit mundane in my head. I answered questions eagerly and excitedly, sharing all my new experiences and realizations. 

But, pretty much the very first day I was back, I missed my friends and host family something fierce, especially because most, or at least many, of them were still in France (where I was supposed to be with them). It was hard seeing photos and videos of them having fun over there knowing that that could have and should have been me. I wasn’t mad, not at all, I just felt a sense of longing to be there again. And borne out of that feeling came a feeling of boredom with where I was. I was bored day in and day out, no matter what I was doing. I visited with friends from my hometown, hung out with my family, exercised, read, and got ready for Christmas, but I couldn’t shake the feeling of discontentment. My family noticed, as well, commenting that they hated to see me this way after watching me have such an incredible time overseas. It honestly was pretty disheartening and tough to experience that boredom and at times, loneliness.

However…as more time went on, I began to grow more content with my life here. Was I as stimulated as I was abroad? No, definitely not, but that’s what made it so special in the first place. And I realized, as I spoke with family and friends, that it’s totally okay for me to want to go back and for me to miss it. I had an experience that was worth missing and desiring to repeat, and that’s something to be grateful for. I also realized that I was extremely lucky to have the friends and family that I did who were so willing to talk about my experience with me. Plus, I had more to look forward to, such as Christmas, seeing my friends from college again, New Year’s, and moving back into school. So, things were looking up after a week and a half or so. 

Then, when I saw some of my closest friends and future roommates from college for the first time since being back, I was so excited. It was so wonderful to see them and just be together as a group in person again. But, after the first few hours of catching up, I started to feel a little bit…off. I couldn’t pinpoint what was going on or why I was reacting the way I was reacting, but I just felt…sad and out of place. The more time I had to reflect, the more I was able to nail down my feelings, but it didn’t come without lots of moments filled with feelings of displacement and without drawing my roommates’ attention. Eventually, I was able to describe it to them like this: I feel like how you feel when you skip a chapter or two in a book, for whatever reason. Or perhaps how you feel if you start reading a book, then put it down for months, and try to pick it back up again from where you left off. Everything makes sense, because you know the key information, but it just feels disjointed. There are little details that you used to sift through effortlessly because you knew the context so well that now feel like potholes jarring your path, roughening it. You feel like you’re missing some social cues that everyone else is picking up on without trying. There are jokes you don’t understand, stories you weren’t a part of, and friendship dynamics that have changed. You feel like you’ve sort of blipped out of life for a while, and now you’re back just to find that everything and everyone sort of just kept going while you were gone. It’s not bad, or horrible, or anything worth being terribly upset over. It’s just…disconcerting. And makes you miss abroad and your friends there all the more. And for me, I then felt myself getting frustrated for feeling this way at all. Hadn’t I grown this semester? Shouldn’t I be coming back more confident and surer of myself, not less confident and feeling even more out of place than before?

So, if there is ever anyone else out there that feels that way, just know you are not alone, and there’s a tip that I’d love to share: talk to your friends and family about how you are feeling. Don’t assume that they know, because honestly, they probably don’t if they haven’t gone abroad and returned. Tell them. I think we always get told not to talk about our abroad experiences too much for fear of being annoying, but if you don’t talk about it at all, you’ll end up feeling like you simply missed a whole semester at home rather than remembering that you gained a whole new set of perspectives and experiences in lieu of it. So, talk about it. Not constantly, but talk about it to people you can trust and who you know deep down really care. Because once I opened up to my friends about how I was feeling and started talking about my experience abroad, I was able to feel like I was more on track. It was like I was able to recognize that yes, our lives had been so different those past few months, but that didn’t mean one was any better than the other or that I had missed some important part of life that I should regret missing. Don’t hole up in a shell and expect the world to come knocking on your door asking how your life’s been for the past four months, because life doesn’t work like that too often.

So yes, I felt out of place and unconfident when I felt like I should be feeling the opposite, and you might too. But don’t ever let that convince you that you haven’t changed or gained anything from your time abroad. When I truly sit and think about it, there are life lessons and tips and thoughts that I never would have even thought about, much less learned, if I hadn’t gone abroad and lived the life that I did. I wouldn’t have encountered the perspectives, the different ways of life, the opinions, the senses of humor, or the friendships that so distinctly helped shape who I am and who I am becoming if I hadn’t let myself “miss out” on home-life for a few months. So, I let that fact give me confidence when I’m feeling like I missed out on key experiences at home, and I let that fact remind me, always, that I’m so, so, so grateful I went.

Clare Hogan

<p>Hey! My name is Clare Hogan and I'm a senior at Wofford College. I'm majoring in Psychology and French, with a minor in English. I hope to become a counseling psychologist one day, which is why I majored in Psychology. At school, I'm in a sorority, Kappa Alpha Theta, and I love to participate in various events with that, such as dances, philanthropy events, and more! I adore reading and writing (hence the minor), hiking, playing tennis, and all things relating to dogs. Also, a fun fact about me is that I sneeze every time I eat chocolate (which is quite often)!</p>

Home University:
Wofford College
Greenville, SC
French Language
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