When I was preparing to go on my Study Abroad year to California 2 years ago I had heard all the stories about how moving to some countries you can experience a culture shock, and feel homesick, and ride the wave of emotions that comes with that initial gaining your bearings in a new country. However, I didn’t experience this. Once I got to California I had made lots of international friends, met a lot of Americans who were all friendly and welcoming and I really felt at home. I even stayed in California over Christmas and did a bit of travelling and sight seeing rather than going back home to do the same old thing I have done every other year. I wanted to really embrace my new home and make the most of the experience!
I first felt slightly homesick only a few months after Christmas because a lot of my international friends had only been at CSUMB (my college) for one semester. My second semester was spent a lot more with Californians, therefore they were a lot more relaxed about organising plans so I felt a bit frustrated when I didn’t have anything going on in the week. However, this was just a blip and I was okay.
I travelled for my remaining month on my visa, utterly making the most of my time in America and I travelled from West to East coast by train, bus and one short distance plane. This was an amazing month travelling with just one other person, exploring new places, ticking off more and more states with each journey, and then we flew home from Boston on the East coast.
What I was not fully warned about was the reverse culture shock, which hit me slowly but still like a train. I came off the plane expected to be greeted with a massive wave of emotion from my family, instead since they had been driving since 4/5am they wanted to be quickly back on the road and go back to bed.
We arrived home, I had been awake for 24 hours but I was excited, I had actually been ready to come home after 11 months straight being away and was looking forward to being back on home land. But as soon as I was back, everyone went to bed and I was bored already.
I was ready to tell people of my adventures, where I had been, what I had been up to, but no one asked… No one wanted to know much more than ‘Did you have fun?’, ‘Yeah’, ‘Okay, good’.
Then I had summer, back to working in the supermarket I had been at for the past 3/4 years during college and seasonal at uni. I’d get a few people commenting on how they wanted to delete me on social media because of the pictures I had been posting, or others commenting with a simple ‘I bet you wish you weren’t back here’. True. Again no one actually wanted to know what it was really like, no one wanted to know the reality behind the pictures. Baring in mind, I mainly use facebook as a means of photo storage incase my phone/laptop was to break and an easy way to let my parents see my photos – and maybe show off ever so slightly. But still, you can’t ever completely believe the facade of social media – it’s never as good as it looks.
So, I spent the first few months being shunned, being told off whenever I mentioned the last year of my life, etc. I thought university would be different… I was living with the same people as I lived in second year plus one other person, two of which had done their own study abroad years and one who had lived out of England for a month or so. Maybe, it would be better being back among my university people.
It all started off well, so many catch ups with university friends – lucky me still had the majority of my friends to come back to, all of which had done either a study abroad year or a year in industry, so my group didn’t change by much plus I had new friends from my study abroad year! Anyway, I started off alright, then university started and I got down. I had all my photos on my wall to remind me of the scenes I used to see when I would leave my door, but I didn’t have the adventures in Leeds to help get my new found love of the outdoors out of my system.
I spent the first month or so feeling lost, I missed my life, I felt homesick of California and I spent a lot of time upset about how not many people seemed to miss me like it was just a blur of their lives that I had made no impact, yet I was there missing everything.
Then that passed, and I thought I would be fine, then I realised how out of it I actually was from the people around me. I felt isolated. I wanted to do well in this year, and study and get through it fast, so I shut myself in my room. However, this just created an invisible barrier between me and my closest friends and I felt excluded, and with a slight change in dynamics in the house just meant I felt even more so like I didn’t belong in my own house.
Before this year I have always been a mentally stable person, on the side that I sort of physically couldn’t understand how some people could let themselves fall into this trap of self doubt and get stuck inside their own brain. So I never would have imagined that it would happen to me, and it definitely didn’t urge me to ask for help, because it wasn’t happening to me, it just couldn’t be.
So I carried on, feeling left out, feeling like I had no one to talk to, which just escalated and I was soon trapped in a viscous circle that was too late to escape from. I missed the emotional freedom I had in California, I missed going on my hikes and exploring new places and being around so many happy positive people.
America was amazing for those kinds of people. I barely came across any negative people – maybe the sunshine did play a factor in that. But so much so I used to question them like ‘why are you so happy?’, ‘why don’t you ever get annoyed?’, ‘are you actually human?’ but this was just how they were – happy go lucky. I found it refreshing and so uplifting and the fact Americans loved the British accent was just a novelty and I loved it.
In a contrast to British people, who thrive on moaning about everything, or bitching about such and such, or generally being miserable or sarcastic. It is just how we are, we have this self loathing type of humour and that is the bond we make with other people. We joke about it, but its true.
However, when I came back, my sarcasm wasn’t as quick as before, I was a bit more sensitive and I took more things to heart because I thought there was slight more malice in comments than there maybe was.
Anyway, I did the worst thing and just shut myself off, I cried myself to sleep most nights, and then eventually started having panic attacks. I got anxious every time someone mentioned about plans and going out, and I would get upset when I didn’t even get invited to things, or if I didn’t know about apparent ‘plans’. When I did tell people, it didn’t change anything so why bother. No one ever checked up on me, or wanted to chat to me or hang out, nor heard me having panic attacks or crying, so it was easy for me to assume no one cared. I kept it all to myself, mostly.
This is where I went wrong – I never asked for help.
Maybe if I went and spoke to someone earlier on, I may have actually enjoyed my final year. But, I left it later and later until it got to the end of the year and I didn’t see the point anymore. Maybe I wouldn’t have looked back on it in such a bad light, I mean I did do some cool things, I went to new places in Leeds I hadn’t been before, I joined vertical fitness and performed a routine as part of a showcase, I made new friends, I went to Ireland for New Years, and to Scotland at Easter. But I decided that maybe I wasn’t happy because I was trying to focus and do my work, that I couldn’t enjoy living with friends, or couldn’t enjoy living in a cool city because I had to be responsible and prioritise.
Then the end of the year was approaching, and the massive question which is on every final year students mind and get asked by everyone is ‘What are you doing after university?’, or ‘Have you got a job yet?’.
Well, I was not in any state fit to get an office job and settle down in the UK, not on these bad terms. It would have only gotten worse. But instead, all I want to do is escape, find the way of life that makes me happy again. I want to live in an area where I can make the most of the outdoors, visit new forests, explore national parks. Hence why I decided to fly to Australia to do a working holiday visa.
Of course, I have my reservations, since I am going solo what if I don’t find someone I click with that will be around for a long amount of time, or what if I come back to the UK in a year or two and truly have no one left here. But of course, since I am a top class over analyser, I know that I shouldn’t let these scenarios get to me. I will have a great time, and I will finally be able to be in control of my life again.
Don’t let my rant put you off anything. My study abroad year was honestly amazing and I would not change it for the world. I loved every minute of it, and I would 110% recommend it to anyone.
What I would change is how I handled myself whilst in my final year. I would talk more openly about what was bothering me, if someone didn’t seem like they cared, find someone who does because there will be someone. Don’t let it eat away at you for a whole year, because you may implode under the pressure. Accept that reverse culture shock is a thing, and simply because you are coming back from an amazing year to, in comparison, a rather dull year.
Don’t be afraid to talk to people, and ask for help if you need it!
Get out there and keep active! Find activities you love to do!