Returning From Study Abroad

By Adrian Keller Feld

Yes, I am going to be that returning study abroad kid, the one everyone despises, who doesn’t shut up about their time abroad: how much better everything was, and how weird it is coming back. Before going abroad I disliked that person too, thought they were exaggerating, and while they were, there was some truth to what they said. I spent all of last school year studying abroad at Trinity College Dublin, and now returning to Reed I find myself reminiscing about my time in Ireland, wishing for easy transport, and feeling overwhelmed in American grocery stores. Studying abroad was unequivocally the best choice I’ve made, and the best experience of my life. But it came with a lot of adjustments.

It feels as if I’ve started college three times: first with my freshman year at Reed, then my sophomore year going to Trinity, and now my junior year at Reed again. Yes, again, but there are still many adjustments to be made. I went to office hours last week, with a professor I knew, but got lost – his office had changed. I found out it wasn’t announced to the class because it had happened a year prior. There have been a few times like that, where I found myself thinking of Reed as a static place that froze for a year while I was gone, and I find the world around me assuming I’ve kept up. I followed the MCs, but was otherwise wholly disconnected from Reed while abroad. I know how to interact with Trinity, know what Instagram accounts to follow for events, and where the knitting club’s Stitch and Bitch happens each week. But at Reed, I’ve had to re-learn it all, like returning from COVID distance learning: I’m not at a new school, and yet it’s still new. 

Before I left Trinity, they hosted an event for all of us study abroad students, where they gave us tips on coping with reverse culture shock. They told us that, metaphorically speaking, we were from circle world, and now we’d spent time in square world, learning all about being a square. But we weren’t squares. However, upon returning to circle world, she warned us we would no longer be circles, but instead triangles; something in between our old circle and new square worlds. It seems silly to imagine one can change so much in just a year, but college in general changes people — traveling, even for shorter periods, changes people. Studying abroad is a life-changing experience, I’d recommend it to anyone, but be ready to return to a different world from what you left, and to see it with different eyes.

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