I have struggled considerably to write this last post. I have tried to take an angle on reverse culture shock, describing my experiences with it in my first week home and whether the expectations meet the reality. I have tried to explore the differences between English and American culture, which aspects I’ll miss, and which ones I’d rather go without. None of these angles have worked out for me because, in these past few days unpacking and grappling with my return home, the place I went to has nothing to do with why I am struggling. Instead, I find myself paralyzed with feelings of loneliness.
While I was in London, I met some of the most interesting and lovely people I’ve ever known. There is a certain kind of person that chooses to study abroad. Everyone in my program was excitable, adventurous, and came with their own stories of curiosity and passion for exploring the world around them. I took up the responsibility of building an entirely new social circle from scratch, and for the most part I did fairly well. I was able to make friends in each of my classes and with my flatmates. I even got to take trips across Europe with people in the program, building a certain kind of trust I’ve never had with another person. Despite these fast friendships, I felt there was an odd wall between the other people in the program and myself. I am lucky enough to say that my closest friends at home are people I’ve known for years. The friends and family I spend my time with all share a long history with me, and I suppose I had forgotten what it felt like to be in a group of relative strangers for so long. I missed feeling like a priority to my friends, but I couldn’t blame the people I met in London for not prioritizing me since we’d met only months before. This distant feeling from my new friends made me anxious to get home.
I arrived at O’Hare in Chicago to a crowded baggage claim. My mom and I finally found each other after two hours, one wrong terminal, and some frustrated tears. We were both too exhausted to talk much on the way home. We returned to an empty house-my stepdad and brothers had gone to a basketball game. They came home a few hours later with two friends in tow. I got the obligatory hugs from my brothers before they went downstairs, and I spent my first night home by myself.
My family has welcomed me more fully over the past week, but there is again an odd wall between us. I am the first in my family to spend any long period of time outside of the U.S. Aside from an occasional Americanized resort vacation to Mexico or Jamaica, the rest of my family has stayed in the U.S. for their entire lives. They ask polite questions about my time abroad, from the general "how was it?" to some curiosities about the food or public transit, but overall they don’t take too much interest. I understand that it is hard to engage with something completely foreign (no pun intended), but I am still left feeling lonely.
So there comes the paralysis. I was lonely in London because my friends there, as great as they are, didn’t have the shared history with me that made me feel so at home with my old friends and family. However, now that I’m home, I realize that the only people that can understand my experience are the people I left behind.
I don’t know the solution to how I’m feeling, and I imagine it will be a while before home feels like home again. All I hope to offer in this post is the knowledge that the first weeks will be hard. I do take comfort in reaching out to my friends from the past semester, talking about the things we miss and the struggles we share even from afar. And my friends and family here at home do want the best for me, whether or not they can connect with the way I’m feeling. But my main hope for those reading now is that they are prepared for this feeling of loneliness, and have people near them to help them through the reentry process.
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Hello! My name is Emma Hughes, and I'm a junior studying Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Iowa. I'm visiting London to study public relations and explore the arts and theatre communities in the UK. I love theatre, creative writing, game nights, and movies. This fall, I hope to have lots of new and exciting experiences in London, and that sharing them with you helps you get the most out of your time abroad!