The Half-Way Mark

I’ve come to the awkward moment where I must finish my blog posts by uploading my “back in the States” post, but a glaring difficulty confronts me: I’m not back in the States. Vague memories of marking a little box on an application swim before my eyes: Semester or Year Long… such a simple decision, but oh, the consequences. So instead of writing about reverse culture shock, I’m going to look back and see how my decision to study abroad for a year influenced my first semester.

Looking back it becomes clear that my timeframe influenced my behavior significantly. For example, I chose to decline offers to travel on weekends and see the sights – Marrakesh, Tangier, etc. This may look like a responsible “I’ll study now and play later” decision, but there was a large portion of complacency involved. Perhaps that was my biggest mistake this semester: putting things off because I “had time.”

Now that winter break draws to a close and my Moroccan friends say things like, “You mean you haven’t played with snakes in Jamaa al-fnaa? What’ve you been doing?” I must admit that I came into the experience with the wrong mindset.  I planned to do all the normal stuff… over the entire year. But should I have stretched things out? Or should I have used my extra time as an opportunity to do extra things?

On the other hand, the semi-permanence of my time here means that it isn’t a three-month tourist attraction. It is a nine-month chunk of my life. As such, I knew that the things that bothered me about the culture were not “going to go away.” So I chose to slow the pace of my extracurriculars ever-so-slightly in order to pause, reflect, and get a grasp on things.

Similar to the way in which I stretched a semester of activities out over a year, I think that my adjustment also stretched out. You’ve probably seen an “adjustment curve” before—it’s that lovely graph that plots emotional adjustment over time. If not, here’s an example:

Emotional Adjustment During Study Abroad

Emotional Adjustment During Study Abroad

You see that big dip in the middle, and then how it climbs up as the experience draws to a close? Yeah… well, let’s just say that as I watched my classmates surge up that slope and heard them talking about Christmas and family traditions, I found myself somewhere around the bottom of that big dip. Actually, if you were standing at the bottom and peered into the deep darkness below, you might have been able to see a pale light reflecting off my distant face.

OK, melodramatic. But the truth is, I experienced a lot of maladjustment right about the time I “should” have been feeling better. This was a reaction to the realization that I’d made a far more permanent decision than most of my classmates. Sure, it stunk at the time, but adjusting to the “inescapableness” of my situation has been a one of the great challenges (and rewards) of studying abroad.