It’s going to sound pathetic, but my first thought upon returning home was being able to switch back to my regular cellular plan. I wouldn’t be charged for international roaming, and wouldn’t need to rely solely on a time limited wifi connection to message other people in my study abroad group, or to check on my departure gate for my final flight. GroupMe, WhatsApp and others are fantastic tools to stay connected while abroad for free with other program participants and those at home, but they do still require a decent signal strength to actually download posts and messages from other people. I was sad to be back because Greece had been so amazing, but constant travel and living out of a suitcase isn’t always for everyone. Every day abroad was fresh and exciting, but sleeping in your own bed also has its own appeal.
Before I studied abroad I noticed that my perceptions of the world were mostly based on news reports which highlighted the troubles and cultural differences around the world rather than the similarities. The news doesn’t show you the good things happening around the world or how similar people might be. Cultural differences aren’t so black and white as the news makes it seem. Really we are all similar and more of a grey than on one side or the other. Sure things may be different in both small and big ways but the simple things stay the same; please and thank you, showing your appreciation for some service, or complimenting someone all still go a long way not matter what language is used to speak them. Disneyland really wasn’t lying, it really is a small world after all, you just have to get out there and see it to understand it. The lines on a map don’t exists in real life, no country truly is distinctly separate and apart from one another they each give and take from their neighbors.
Adjusting to life back home wasn’t as difficult for me as you would think. Jetlag and time changes certainly are awful and the first time you order food and see the small portion compared to the price you paid for it might cause heart palpitations, but it’s the sales tax that’s going to truly give you a heart attack. While abroad you get used to paying EXACTLY (not including the small polite tip for service) the price listed on a menu or the sticker, you know exactly what you are spending and what you have left. Sales tax in the U.S. is like playing a guessing game with your wallet, you never know what you’re going to get.
The best advice I could give to future students is to do your research. Know where you’re going and adjust what you bring accordingly. You’re suitcase will get heavier as you add things to it so don’t start out with a 50lb bag. Pack only what you need: 5 pairs of shoes are insane for 3 weeks, but a pair of sneakers, sandals, and one other pair might be all right. You aren’t going to the moon, shampoo and soap will exist where you are going, so DON’T haul what you can find there. Just have fun with it. Enjoy your experience, just be smart about it. Be street smart, be aware of your surroundings, the buddy system is ideal for large cities but at a minimum make sure that at least one person knows where you’ll be or when to expect you. Lastly, take pictures. Take as many or as few as you want just remember to have a healthy balance of landscape shots, photos of yourself at a location (taken by someone else of you, NOT a selfie), and some selfies if you so chose. You will get older at some point and might regret not being in ANY of your photos, being in ALL of them, or ONLY having selfies. Some places are ideal for landscapes, don’t forget that they exist. As with all things in life, balance is key.