The Post-Study Abroad Blues

Well, I’ve been back for two weeks now. How did that happen? I knew it would go by fast, but man I swear all I did was blink. I flew out of Schipol on June 26th, nearly 24 hours of traveling later I was back in Utah. 15 days later here I am. BOY do I miss it, I missed it the instant I left.

Warning: This is not the typical upbeat travel post. This is what comes after the adventure is over, and the emotions that follow. There’s nothing quite like putting pen to paper, or finger to keyboard in this case, to help make sense of the cluster of thoughts and emotions experienced after returning from a life changing experience.

I was warned that adjusting back into life at home would be a challenge, and I knew it would be. The term reverse culture shock was thrown around a lot during the weeks leading up to all of us leaving.

Reverse culture shock, or re-entry, is simply a common reaction to returning home from studying abroad. It is an emotional and psychological stage of re-adjustment, similar to your initial adjustment to living abroad. Symptoms can range from feeling like no one understands you or how you’ve changed to feeling panicked that you will lose part of your identity if you don’t have an outlet to pursue new interests that were sparked abroad. Your reactions to re-entry may vary, but common signs are:

  • Restlessness
  • Rootlessness
  • Boredom
  • Depression
  • Uncertainty
  • Confusion
  • Isolation
  • Wanting to be alone
  • “Reverse homesickness”

(thank you marquette.edu)

I am going to add a few more symptoms courtesy of studentsabroad.com and expatica.com

  • Irritability and hostility
  • You can’t explain
  • Relationships have changed
  • People misunderstand you
  • Feelings of alienation
  • Inability to apply new knowledge and skills
  • Loss/compartmentalization of experience

Without any hesitation I will say I can attest to reverse culture shock. I haven’t experienced all of these symptoms, but I can relate to good majority of them. I am not naïve enough to think this is anything but normal. If it weren’t, there wouldn’t be 2,740,000 hits on google for the term. For those curious about what it feels like from someone experiencing it right now, know this… There’s an overwhelming feeling of being out of place. Because yes, you feel like people just don’t get it. They don’t get your new perspectives, what you experienced, what it is like for you to return home. You roll your eyes at your own culture because those norms don’t seem so normal anymore. There’s a battle between feeling restless for adventure and just wanting to be alone. You miss the place you grew a love for and the people who shared it with you. You’re irritable, at everything and everyone and you can’t rationalize it. And there’s the looming question, where do I go from here? Once you get bit by the travel bug there’s no going back. You hunger for the next big thing, but know it’s a long time coming. So, where do you go?

I was told that everything would be the same and yet everything would be different when I got back. I was warned that I would get slapped with real life. The ways in which I’ve “changed” will stand out in the ways that everything else has stayed the same. And the things that have changed while I was gone will be the things I least wanted to.

I came back to: unemployment. The house I’ve been living in for the past 8 years having been sold. My sister moved to another state. A near empty bank account. Revoked car registration. Bald tires on that car. Bills. Difficult family dynamics. The question – how am I going to pay for my last two semesters of school, pay my bills, and eat all at the same time? Real life. I had managed to avoid it for five months.

First world problems right? Disclaimer: I realize there are much, much bigger problems people are facing at this very moment. As my mom graciously reminded me when I called her during one of my many meltdowns, these are minor and will work themselves out. However, I am a human being and succumb to the stresses trivial challenges from time to time.

What I’m doing about it: I got hired on at a new job (a great job at that). I’m moving in September. I proved to the DMV that there was no need for my car to have liability insurance while I was out of the country. I bought new tires. I applied for students loans.

Not everything can get settled at once, but I’ve made some positive progress in diminishing my to-do list. I know I will adjust, and this will be normal life once again. But for now, I’m going to let the stages of “reverse culture shock” run their course.

That being said, my heart is constantly filled with gratitude for the AMAZING experience I had. As cliché as it is, there’s a quote that holds a lot of meaning to me in this time, and I know many of my friends from Groningen. “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” I am incredibly blessed to have spent five months in a very special city. I saw the places I always dreamed of. I have grown, and truly lived. I refuse to let myself lose sight of that for a second.

To lighten things up a bit, here are some of the little things I thought were strange/I had forgotten were normal when I got back:

  • Sitting in the passenger seat of a car.
  • DRIVING a car, and man mine is so low to the ground!
  • An LDS missionary being welcomed back at the same time as me in the airport, Toto I am back in Utah now.
  • How big and comfortable my bed is.
  • How many clothes I have, do I really need that many?
  • Having an entire bathroom to myself. No need for shower shoes. No need to line the toilet seat with toilet paper.
  • My bedroom being on ground level.
  • An oven.
  • Good customer service, polite employees who ask you if you’re finding everything all right.
  • Being able to eavesdrop on people’s conversations. And American accents, EVERYWHERE.
  • GIANT stores. I.e. Wal-Mart, Smith’s, Target. I can get everything I need in one place! And as an added bonus, I can read the labels so I actually know what I’m buying.
  • Soooooo many cereal options.
  • People moving out of your way, not body checking you while you’re walking through the store, and even apologizing if they do get in your way. (I swear the Dutch purposefully get in your way)
  • Minimal alcohol choices at the grocery store.
  • USD’s feel funny $ < €.
  • Nobody walking. Anywhere.
  • If there happens to be one bicycle on the street (a true rarity) cars veer clear into the next lane to give the cyclist space.
  • Helmets.
  • H&M is much cheaper in Europe.
  • Constant refills on my giant glass of water when I eat out.
  • I have to tip??
  • Everyone is SO TAN.
  • Perfectly styled hair, along with perfectly done (dare I say overdone) makeup.
  • Trucks, SUV’s, and minivans.
  • Hills and mountains.
  • Having to watch the potty mouth I accrued while abroad.

“I’m not sure what I’ll do- well, I want to go places and see people. I want my mind to grow. I want to live where things happen on a big scale.” -F. Scott Fitzgerald

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That Time I Went To Hogwarts

One of the major highlights of my trip to London was what I got to do on March 31st. I got to fulfill another dream, I got to explore Leavesden Studio. (Better known as the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – … Continue reading

The Roof Over My Head

Here are the pictures of where I am living for just under five months 🙂

photo 2

Unpacking (FINALLY)

Unpacking chaos 3 Unpacking chaos Unpacking chaos 2

Bathroom. The pictures are deceiving, it is actually much dirtier than it appears. But there are two of these for the 15 rooms, 3 showers and 3 toilets.

Korno shower Korno Bathroom

Hallway, with the recycling out for the world to see.

Korno hallway Recycling clutter

Kitchen, again do not let this deceive you, doesn’t look this nice and clean in person 😉

Korno Kitchen Korno Kitchen 3 Korno Kitchen 2

My room all put together! I am actually really happy with my room, I have made it my own and it feels like home.

IMG_1632 IMG_1630 IMG_1629 IMG_1627

“Experience, travel- these are an education in themselves.” -Euripides

 

 

Ik Spreek Geen Nederlands

Things I’ve Noticed/Culture Shock:

-Everyone wears scarves. EVERYONE. Men, women, children, all of them wear scarves. Mostly big thick infinity scarves. Which makes sense, with it being cold and windy you kinda need to, especially when cycling.

-People are very helpful, I have not yet asked a Dutch for directions or asked them a question that they were not very helpful and nice in response.

-This is a city with a heck of a night life. When my night ends, everyone is just beginning. Bars and pubs don’t begin to fill up until 1, by then I am tapped out. People stay out until the wee hours of the morning like it’s nothing.

-Condoms. We were given condoms in our welcome bag. This would NEVER happen where I’m from, seeing as how public schools are prohibited from teaching about sex. Abstinence rather is the education of choice, prevention is out of the question. I highly disagree with that method of education chosen by my home state, but it is what I have become accustomed to. So getting a condom in my welcome bag was quite a shock for me.

-So very liberal, which I knew, but it’s definitely a shock coming from my conservative state. Culture shock in a good way, people are very open minded and don’t pay mind to how others are living their lives. Refreshing change.

-A lot of times you can’t exit a store the same way that you enter. There are gates you have to pass through when you enter a store, and you can’t go back out of them. So a lot of times you have to go through the check out to exit a store.

-No plastic grocery bags. If you want one, you pay for it. Otherwise you come prepared with your own reusable bag. Also, you bag all of your own stuff. Luckily ESN gave us one, I bought an extra one, and I bring my backpack as well.

-Stores don’t open until 1 on Mondays.

-Cars don’t attempt to give cyclists space. I mean why would they, when there are so many of them. But it is very different from where I’m from, where hardly anyone cycles, they will practically go to the clear other side of the road to ensure a cyclist has space. Also, buses drive right behind herds of cyclists, practically riding their rear ends.

-Ambulances are yellow.

-I didn’t notice this, rather was informed of it. The provinces of North and South Holland associate themselves differently than those in Groningen. When asked what country they live in, the typical response from a Groningen native would be The Netherlands. When asked the same question by natives of the aforementioned provinces, they would say Holland. And apparently, the cities Amsterdam and Rotterdam are not pals.

 

Obvious Out-of-Towner Moments:

– When I tried to order off of the kids menu. Needless to say I got laughed at.

-Cycling my bike on the wrong side of the road.

-Going to a card only checkout lane when I only had cash.

-Referring back to the enter/exit system in stores – The time I didn’t know how to get out of a store when I didn’t buy anything.

-Getting lost. More times than I’d even like to admit to.

-Cheese. I can’t figure out the cheese for the life of me. The first time I bought cheese, I got what I thought looked the closest to cheddar. Turns out, it was parmesan. (I know, I know, they look nothing alike. But the packaging was deceiving I swear.)

-Buying non-alcoholic beverages when I was intending to buy them with alcohol.

 

“Half the fun of travel is the aesthetic of lostness.” -Ray Bradbury

Kornoeljestraat – My New Home

Got my housing assignment!

I spent some time a few months ago looking for rooms on my own that students were renting out, which would have been ideal because they are generally inexpensive and I would have had the opportunity to live with Dutch students. However I wasn’t having much luck on that front and I didn’t want to run the risk of not having a place to live when I got there, so I went the safe route and applied for accomodation through the city’s housing office. This places me in international student housing.

I received my assignment yesterday and I must admit, I’m less than excited about where I’ve been placed. It’s more expensive than I would have liked, at €340, over $460 USD, a month it stretches my budget thin. The reviews I’ve read are not promising, people advising students not to stay there due to a lack of cleanliness and a cockroach problem. The upside is I do get my own room, and for my own feelings of security I am grateful for that. It is one of the only non smoking accomodations, which is an important factor for me. Plus, I will be living with people from all over the world, which will be a really cool experience in and of itself.

I’m trying to put it into perspective and recognize that this is all part of the experience, regardless of the conditions I will have a roof over my head while I am living in The Netherlands. THE NETHERLANDS. So although the clean freak inside of me doesn’t relish in the idea of living somewhere dirty, this experience is meant to take me out of my comfort zone. So here’s to jumping out of my comfort zone, I can’t wait to have this adventure continue to grow me!

19 days to go!

“A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for” – John A. Shedd

ONE MONTH

I can’t believe how quickly time has passed. I still vividly remember the moment I decided to pursue this, and thinking what patience I would need to have to wait eight months for it to happen. Now here we are, seven months down in the blink of an eye. This experience has grown my perspective on time; that if I don’t fixate on my want for the future, I will find that time passes all the same and the future is never as far away as it seems.

In the past seven months I have gone from a mind set on going to England to a heart filled with love for The Netherlands, a sense of home for a place I have yet to see with my own eyes. I conquered another semester of school, even getting the best grades of my college career despite having one very sidetracked mind. (It’s a little hard to focus on schoolwork when you’re preparing to leave the country for an extended period of time.) I’ve jumped through hoop after hoop and obstacle after obstacle that has come my way in this process. Now here we are, so close I can almost taste it.

I’m striving to enjoy every phase of life, live in the moment recognizing I will never have it again. This comes so far from naturally for me, but in my journey to study abroad I can honestly say I have grown in this area. Now with a month left until my adventure of a lifetime I hope to enjoy every moment I have left with my friends and family here, to not take for granted the things I will surely miss while I am away.

“Act in the moment, live in the present, slowly slowly don’t allow the past to interfere, and you will be surprised that life is such an eternal wonder, such a mysterious phenomenon and such a great gift that one simply feels constantly in gratitude.” -Osho

Getting Educated: Anne Frank Huis

I learned something recently that I am very excited about and yet surprised I wasn’t aware of, the Anne Frank House is located in Amsterdam (which I’m finding a fair amount of people weren’t aware is in fact located in The Netherlands). World War II is my favorite era in history to learn about, the holocaust especially. So naturally when anticipating travelling in Europe I have placed sights involving this era on the top of my must-see list. I was reading an unrelated article that talked about destinations in Amsterdam when low and behold, there was the Anne Frank House. I’ve read her diary and researched her story yet somehow was under the presumption that she lived in Germany. Although she legitimately was German, she spent most of her life in The Netherlands. She even wrote her diary in Dutch. Regardless of my apparent ignorance I am elated that such a landmark of history will be within a two hour train ride. For anyone who isn’t aware the secret annex in which Anne Frank hid for two years before eventually succumbing to the terrors of the concentration camps has been turned into a museum. I never would have imagined I’d be blessed with the opportunity to see it with my own eyes. I am so grateful for this path that God has put me on and the dreams He is making come true, can’t wait to see what other secret treasures He has in store for me.

50 days to go!

“Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.”

The Countdown Begins

Flight: booked! 56 days and counting

With less than two months to go it may be a surprise I hadn’t bought my plane ticket yet. The study abroad office at my university had advised me not to until I received my “official acceptance” from the University of Groningen, which I still have yet to receive. It’s been a few weeks since they got all of my paperwork, but since then they have sent me the forms to apply for my residence permit and added me to their exchange group on Facebook. So although it may not technically be official, I think it’s safe to say I am in the clear. I booked my flight through Student Universe, which is similar to Expedia/Travelocity/Kayak. I chose this website because they offer deals specific to students and had a Cyber Monday deal today that got me $50 off of my ticket. I was able to buy my flight for almost $200 less than anticipated which evens out the $200 it is going to cost me to get my luggage back and forth. Such a blessing! I leave Monday, January 27th and arrive in Amsterdam Tuesday morning, then return Thursday June 26th. This will get me to Groningen in time for international student orientation which is on Wednesday.

I sent out my application for my residence permit last week. The international student desk at the University of Groningen applies for these for their students, so my job was to fill out the paperwork, mail it to them, and wire them the permit fee. They could only take the forms by mail, so I did indeed have to mail it all to The Netherlands. Then I did my second international wire to get them the €300 residence permit fee, I must say if I never have to do another international wire again it will be too soon. They are expensive and quite the pain in the rear.

As far as fundraising goes I don’t have any updating to do at this time. I’m working on a fundraising project at the moment but it isn’t set in stone that I will be able to do it. Once I have more information I will update and let everyone know what I’m working on!

“It’s good to have an end to journey toward, but it’s the journey that matters in the end.” -Ernest Hemmingway

Fundraising Goal

It has come to my attention that many of my friends and family are curious about how much money I am trying to raise. I intentionally left this out of my fundraising letters in the hopes of not putting any pressure on people to donate and leaving it up to them to give however they felt led to. However, I do understand the desire to know an amount and that it can be helpful when figuring out if/how much to give. Everyone who received a letter got a breakdown of my expenses, a few unexpected things have come up and the cost of my study abroad endeavor has increased. Along with these expenses:

Tuition: $4,400                   Books: $200        Airfare: $1,200                   Housing: $2,000

Student Visa: $415           Startup needs: $300        Food: $1,000      Travel Expenses: $1,500

Bicycle for transportation: $150                 Incidentals: $500

Totaling about $11,700

Other expenses have come up including:

  • Housing application fee and deposit: $875
  • International wire fees that cost $40 each time, two have been required so far and I anticipate one more costing me a total of $120

Bringing my new running total to about $12,660

I have anticipated for the conversion rate; The Netherlands currency is the Euro and currently the rate fluctuates between $1.33-$1.40 for every €1.

I will be attending a summer course at my university here in the US when I get back from my spring semester in The Netherlands which will cost me a little over $800 in tuition, so that is an expense I have to account for when planning my finances.

With my personal savings and the $2,750 I received in student loans I come up about $2,000 short of what I need. Therefore the amount I am trying to raise through the generosity of others and various fundraising opportunities is $2,000. It brings me much gratitude to be able to say I am already a quarter of the way to my goal, so in the next two and half months what I have left to raise is $1,500.

“Stuff your eyes with wonder, live as if you’d drop dead in 20 seconds.  See the world.  It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in the factories.” -Ray Bradbury