My new chapter: the readjusting and revelations of a Study Abroad student

Aircraft landing on runway


You notice on Facebook if you haven’t heard about it anywhere else. Norwegians came first then us U.S. Americans. I think the French followed and the Canadians are just to come.

There are more countries, but you know, my Facebook feed only goes so far. And my Facebook friends seem to be selective with the places they are going to. But there are other choices too, so do not worry if you were looking to go elsewhere.

We aren’t actually of any of these nationalities, neither are they holiday destinations. We are Strathclyde students spreading out; around the globe. Publishing pictures and posts about our new homes, sharing some of the new experiences we have made. We Strathclyde students are leaving our local chippy behind, with all the many music venues and bars, beers and ciders we are used to drink. We leave the free pizzas from our Student Union. We will live different realities now.

We are leaving the kettles in our cosy homes, where we enjoyed tea and biscuits with our families and friends. Where we sat behind damp window glass when it was pouring outside and the weather was just too miserable to go out. We leave the ‘four seasons in a day’ and the familiar accents of the city. We leave Glasgow’s friendliest souls that hide behind the street corner just to give us directions. We leave all this and so much more. And trade it with experiences from another part of the globe. We will compare it to what we are used to and share some of our world views and ways of living.

From Strathclyde there are around 500 students going on exchange this academic year 2016 to 2017. Their spaces are filled by approximately 450 people coming to our University to study in the first Semester alone. Abroad as well as here we are the new and excited bunch, the exotic topic of interest, the new fun person you can show all that ordinary stuff too. (We will find anything interesting!)  We are the narrative of misunderstandings, we are living stereotypes as much as stereotype killers, we laugh a lot, but I think that’s mostly because we are so confused. We will gasp at things of your everyday sight; unable to act cool and keep our mouths shut, but instead raise our voices, yelling in astonishment, “WOW! I have never seen anything like this before!” And then of course there are our various accents, which if you hang out with us a lot, will soon be lost from your focus of attention, despite them seeming so strange now.

This has been me, all these last days. I know that even though we all feel and react differently, it is the common struggles of being at a new place, making all this huge adjustments to our surroundings and lifestyle that unites people with international experiences. The USA has been mostly amazing so far, but the ordinary things like everyday conversations, food shopping, using public transport and all these simple tasks have suddenly become overwhelming. When you are constantly fighting your inner clock, not to fall asleep in the broad daylight, or get teary when the international student coordinator of your new university unknowingly pinpoints one of your current emotions. When you crave to hear you mum’s voice or get hyper over an outdated book with pictures of your home town, then you know that you are definitely still high up in a loop of that roller-coaster ride called Study Abroad.

Homesickness and wanderlust will play around your heart and mind, endlessly changing direction like a confused compass. Studying abroad will teach you mostly about yourself, about your place in the world and hopefully but unlikely provide you with more answers than questions.

All this, only to sooner or later, after a semester or year, come home and notice that our chippy is still the same, but that we are not, that suddenly Starbucks sizes are far too small (at least if you came to the US like me) and that, the tea that you have missed so much, for all this long, doesn’t taste as good. That your friends after all the questions about your “new” life will never understand what you actually went through and will eventually get board of not understanding this new reality, you do not have in common.

But let me not predict too much already, we are not there yet. Now we are still learning to miss our tea and the mild but sometimes freezing temperatures from back home. We are still amazed by the heat of the American summer and still dying of excitement when about to enter an American dinner. So is our first American football game, or being surrounded by all these massive skyscrapers or the endlessness of the remote U.S. American country side, miles away from home, for us still an equivalent with pure excitement.