I’d like to have a conversation about friends and loved ones both at home and in your host country. It has been very easy during my time here to allow myself to fall into the habit of putting off a Skype session here or there with people back home, and while time abroad has to be enjoyed to the fullest, it shouldn’t come at the expense of your friends and family back home. I think most people approach studying abroad with the mindset of skyping a friend or family member every week and posting all the pictures up on Facebook and doing the utmost to retain a connection to home. If you can pull that off then I commend you, because it is a lot harder than it sounds. The friends you make abroad will hopefully last you a life time and you will remain in contact with people from around the world for the rest of your life, any good sales pitch for a program will tell you that. It’s true of course, but the connections you have back home will be the most pressing ones upon your return.
I’m trying so very hard to keep up to date with everything back at UA, within my friend group in Kansas, with the family in Kansas, and as a result I think I’ve managed to stave off homesickness while still finding time to go to Rome, take a train from Venice to Berlin through the Alps, and see a hot-ticket play called Clarence Darrow starring Kevin Spacey while I’ve been here. A comfortable balance has to be found, usually by overdoing it initially, then slacking on keeping in touch, then settling in to a comfortable habit by the last month or so. Studying abroad doesn’t mean isolating yourself from home for a semester, but it does challenge your friendships and relationships with people back home. It tests their durability and depth while enhancing their quality if they make it through the process. You must forgive me, because now I turn to a bit more somber of a topic concerning time abroad.
Fear. It is very real, and very potent, with the potential to train-wreck even the most memorable of excursions abroad. The trick is not to let it. I think I speak for most study abroad students when I say that among the greatest fears are things like the death of a pet, the passing of a loved one, or a crisis within the family, like divorce. Speaking as someone to whom literally all three of these things have happened while I’ve been here in London, it sucks. It completely and utterly sucks. But you know what I’ve found? It will be the friendships you cultivate with local residents that get you through the tragedies because even though talking to your family is important when things like this happen, because they have experienced loss too. While they may not know all the circumstances of your feelings with regards to your loss, they are in a categorically better position to help you out than people who weather that loss with you hundreds of miles away. So when you go to make contingency plans for flying home if there is a crisis within the family, stop and consider that maybe you will have grown close enough to the people around you so that they can act as your substitute family. I know that’s what has gotten me through, and my relationships with those who have helped me are all the stronger for it.
So if there is a moral to this post I suppose it would be to make every effort to maintain ties with friends and family back home, but do so in a manner which allows your relationships to flourish and enhance your time abroad. My intention by writing about loss is not to scare anyone thinking about going abroad out of it for fear of what might happen while at home, but rather to allay those fears. It wasn’t the end of the world for me and my fun over here for the sole reason that a had an incredibly sound support group to help me through, and then get me right back into having the time of my life in London.