London, Paris, Tokyo… Ithaca?

For those who’ve studied abroad, coming back to Ithaca can bring a bit of a shock and a sense of comfort all at once. Re-transplanting yourself from foreign skyscrapers back to the Slope feels about as weird as it was leaving Cornell in the first place. For many, studying abroad is a dream come true— expanding horizons, new languages, mind-blowing cuisines—but getting back to reality is a long road ahead.

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Initial Culture Shock

For me, it was the supermarkets. Somehow even the cereal aisle became overwhelming (WHY DO WE NEED NINE DIFFERENT TYPES OF FROSTED MINI WHEATS?!), not to mention superstores like Costco, Walmart, and Best Buy. In my own irrefutable denial, I even started calling “Target,” “Targé” to bring back a bit of that stylish, European flair.

Often the only thing that truly softens the blow of re-entering the U.S. is time. Yes, in America everyone drives on the right side of the road. No, you can’t haggle over produce at the grocery store. Just as you had to learn how to live somewhere else, you must re-learn what it’s like to be home again. Much like waiting out a hangover, all you can do is kick back and wait–a Magner’s Irish cider tastes just as good stateside as it did abroad!

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Coping Emotionally

When you conjure an image of “Study Abroad,” you generally think of leaving– not coming back. No matter where you were– India, Italy, or Ireland– things may not be as great in Ithaca as the faraway place you came to know and love. And even though Ithaca is beautiful in its own way, it’s just as likely that you associate it with parties as you do with hours in the library cracking under the pressure of classes. Your semester-long vacation is officially over. You’re expected to take your nose out of the air and put it back in a book. And that really, really sucks.

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As a symptom of returning, many abroad alums confess that they feel like they’ve “grown up,” that they’ve changed with their novel and exciting experiences overseas– and in a way, coming back to the school you knew before all of that can make it feel like you’re somehow moving backward. In this very confusing shift, it’s important to find your direction again (both in terms of your life goals… and also navigating your way around campus).

In all, study abroad is a wonderful experience. Though you may miss the wonderful time you spent away once you return, it only means that you had something worthwhile. There are certain experiences or words that simply don’t translate to normal life. A certain “untranslatable” Portuguese phrase exists that I think captures the post-study-abroad blues quite well:

Saudade (n.): a nostalgic longing to be near again to something or someone that is distant, or that has been loved then lost; “the love that remains.”

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