Two of the Study Abroad Office Peer Advisors decided to spend their holiday break in the countries where they studied last year. We were curious, what is it like to return?
Working in the OSU Study Abroad Office, I often get the question, “how long should I go abroad for?” Some students, who are looking to go abroad, think a year is unimaginable without the comforts of home, and family. Others couldn’t even imagine a semester. But from students that have been abroad before, I commonly hear, that once you’re abroad, you never want to come home. That was certainly my experience. Before going abroad, I thought a year would be just enough. The first semester you spend getting acclimated to the country: new people, new tastes, new accommodation, new experiences; and the second semester, you get to enjoy, embrace, explore and savor these new people and things. But even after a year, when it was time to come home, I was nowhere near ready. If not for my extreme dedication to graduation (and my visa expiring), I would have been tempted to remain in England for another year (or ten).
As soon as I returned, I was anxious to get back to the place I love. But leading up to my trip, I became a bit more anxious. I was lucky enough to have a friend that was letting me stay at his flat in Leicester, England for a week, and then I was going staying with him and his family just outside of London for the Christmas holidays. I had met his family before, and they were excited to show me their English Christmas traditions, and I was excited to be able to spend Christmas with a family. Then for New Years, I was going to fly to Amsterdam to visit my friend Mirte – who incidentally, I spent New Years with the year before – in her hometown of Beverwijk. Mirte is a friend I met studying in Leicester who, upon hello, became my traveling partner and best friend, but who I hadn’t seen since the summer. Yes, it sounds like the perfect Christmas break, in my eyes, but there was a part of me that knew, even before leaving, that it would be even harder to say good-bye the second time.
The flight from Oklahoma to Atlanta to London to Leicester was as exhausting as I remembered, but just as we were pulling into Leicester, and I started to see buildings I recognized, instantly, this calm feeling came over me; I let out a big smile and thought, “I’m home.” The first night I was there, I met my friends at my favorite pub, for my favorite pub meal and a pint of cider. It doesn’t get any better than that. It was weird to think it had been over six months since I had seen them, but it felt like no time had passed at all. In fact, that seemed to be a general theme throughout my trip; it felt as if everything had been waiting for me to return.
The best part about going back to Leicester, besides seeing friends, was the Christmas market and decorations. In England, the lights are strung from one building to the opposite building in the square, causing the lights to hang over the walkway. And then in the middle of the centre, at the clock tower, there was a huge Christmas tree. Then the market had stalls with gifts handmade or grown by individuals, or hot mulled wine and cider, and sometimes rides for the kids. It’s a fun atmosphere for Christmas shopping.
Returning to England also gave me the opportunity to interview with the Royal Veterinary School in London as well as a tour of the University of Bath, where I have already been accepted to a Master’s Program. The promise of doing graduate school in England made the trip that much more exciting. After meeting friends in Leicester, I was off to a town called Brentwood, just outside of London, where I stayed with my friend and his family for Christmas. Christmas in England is very different from the United States. There’s still a big dinner, but there are crackers (I know them as poppers) which hold presents inside of them, and kings crowns you wear throughout the dinner. There are Yorkshire puddings, which are pastries similar to rolls. And for dessert, Christmas pudding, which is similar to fruit cake, but doused in rum and lit on fire. You can even find money hidden in your piece of cake, if you’re lucky enough.
The day after Christmas in England, December 26th, is known as Boxing Day. This day is a bank holiday so everyone has it off work, and generally families have big celebrations. In my case, we went to an old city on the sea called Malden. It was full of houses that had been built in the 1600s, and big ships that went out to sea and up the Thames into London. In the evening, we had a big buffet of food from the day before and played games and watched football (soccer). I really liked the tradition of Boxing Day. It allows you to have one more day with your family (and sports and delicious food) before you have to go back to the real world.
The highlight of my trip, by far, was my mini-trip to the Netherlands while in England. Mirte and I kept in touch since she returned to the Netherlands and I to the US, so being able to visit her after so many months apart was nothing short of amazing. When I was in Europe before, I was unable to visit the Netherlands, so this was my first time in the country as well! We visited Amsterdam and Utrecht, but nothing compared to the New Years Eve celebrations in her hometown, Beverwijk.
We started the night at a small party in her flat with her close friends, but at midnight, we had bought fireworks to set off. Mirte had warned me before how big fireworks were in the Netherlands at midnight on New Years. In fact, the year before, when we were in Madrid for New Years, she said that was the one thing she missed. But I was not prepared. It was SO COOL! As soon as the clock stroke midnight, the entire town exploded. We ran outside, and everywhere you looked you were surrounded by bright lights and color. We had our own fireworks to set off, and that certainly added to the excitement. Afterwards we went to a small bar and danced the night away (literally) not coming home until the wee hours in the morning. And the following morning we went to the beach. The cool, salty air was just what we needed to clear our bodies of the night before. I couldn’t think of a more perfect way to bring in the new year.
But in the end, leaving the second time was harder than I ever imagined. Saying good-bye to friends is always hard, no matter where you are or how long you’ve been with them. But the great thing about the friends I’ve met and the experiences I had is I never know where they’re going to take me next. When I say bye, I know at some point in my life I will see them again. I just don’t know in what country, or in what capacity, or at what time. But in the meantime, we will stay in touch. The excitement and the potential of it all are special in their own right. All in all, I guess Billy Joel was right; Vienna (or England, in my case) really does wait for you.
By: Emma Rupert