Home, missing friends from afar

Column by Laura Clark. E-mail [email protected].

When I decided to delay my graduation and study abroad in England for a semester instead, I had to attend orientations, read agreements and sign consent forms. I was given tips on how to handle culture shock and how to make friends. I was warned that I’d get homesick at “X” stage, then I’d start to adapt to my surroundings at “Y” stage, and so on.

Despite this advice, leaving Kentucky by myself to spend six months in a country I had never been to seemed impossibly difficult.

But no one warned me that coming back to the states would be unimaginably harder.

Clueless but excited, I packed my suitcases and flew across the Atlantic to a town in northwestern England called Lancaster, where I would be studying at Lancaster University (once school to Andy Serkis, known for playing Gollum in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, how awesome). Living in the dorms, I made campus my home. But what is a home without people you love?

I found these people almost immediately, at my first study abroad orientation. These American women took the same gutsy leap of coming to Lancaster alone. We became friends quickly: We helped each other battle homesickness or simply went out to one of the nine bars on campus (take note, UK).

We even helped each other immerse ourselves into English culture, and through this I became “mates” with several English students. These people accepted me for who I was without question and didn’t even criticize me when they found I didn’t know the rules of cricket. By the end of term, I realized each of these amazing individuals was worth keeping in my life for longer than six months.

When my time abroad was nearly over, I scrambled to find some kind of guidebook that would tell me what to do — how I should say goodbye to these people I had only just met, how to leave a place that was my home for half of a year. I couldn’t find one.

But it didn’t matter: goodbyes had to be said, and my suitcases had to be packed up again. I came back and felt like a square peg trying to fit into that round hole I had once called home. I couldn’t help wondering what was wrong with me — shouldn’t it be easy to be home?

It’s been five months since my return, and sometimes I ask myself, why didn’t someone tell me that I’d miss my time abroad like a constant stomachache?  That I’d terribly miss the friends I had made? That I’d be planning a trip back as soon as I landed on American soil?

But even if someone had, I’d like to think I’d have gone anyway. If I hadn’t immersed myself into the culture and my new relationships, I would not have grown into the person I am now. Sure, leaving a place where I had learned so much was awful, but returning home has shown me how the people and experiences in my life are beautifully irreplaceable.

To those contemplating studying abroad, you can’t say I didn’t warn you.