The transition back to campus after studying abroad in the fall is not something people really talk about. As a second semester junior who just returned from London, I was not expecting the wave of emotions I experienced. Without much time for reflection, I found myself jotting down my thoughts in the car on a family trip to Florida over the break. I knew that if I didn’t give myself a space to reflect, I would not allow myself time to process my feelings. Sure enough, I got back to Wake for recruitment a couple weeks ago and immediatly felt overwhelmed.
I felt like my experience in London was a dream. It was as if I never left Wake Forest. I fell back into old patterns. When people asked me about my time in London I responded each time with, “It was amazing!” I never paused to think about why it was amazing. Why couldn’t I articulate my thoughts? Sitting down at the end of a crazy first week of classes, I forced myself to jot it all down. Get it all out. I decided to write a letter to myself. Frantically typing on my iPhone notes, this is what came out.
Abroad doesn’t change you, but it does foster growth, both personal and in the relationships of the people you go with. A semester abroad is kind of like taking one big, sloppy, fun, and unrealistic step into adulthood only to step back into being a college student when you get back to the U.S. It’s great. Let yourself be alone, take a walk by yourself, go somewhere new to get a coffee. Buy the shoes. Have another cookie. Watch a dumb British reality TV show. Never be afraid to advocate for yourself and what you want. When you want to walk quickly to class, walk slowly instead, taking in your surroundings. No matter what, there should always be a big pack of Cadbury Buttons in the freezer. Go shopping for trinkets in the airport. Give yourself a needed break from the craziness of Wake Forest and just live in a city. It’s liberating. Make a playlist to listen to on the Tube. Get over your flying anxiety, you won’t crash. Embrace being pale. Ride the bus. Smile at the mean bald man that works at the front desk at school. Allow yourself to be present with everyone. Living with a group of girls makes building relationships easy, especially when you spend time together making tik toks. Pretend like it’s Christmas as soon as Halloween is over. Stare at people on the street. Beautiful people deserve to be looked at. Dress however you want to. No one cares. Most importantly, exercise gratitude (and also buy something with fur on it). Enjoy where you are now.
I’m sure as I live out the rest of my semester at Wake, I will uncover more lessons from abroad. They will bubble up and I will realize that I have been changed for the better. I won’t be embarrassed to disagree, to speak up in class and to say no. Taking a break from life at Wake Forest gave me space to breathe, to step back and decide the kind of person I wanted to be when I got back.