Prior to embarking on the long journey that is study abroad, faculty warn bright-eyed students about the looming shadow of “culture shock.” 

A few small comments are made about readjusting to the States upon return, but the main focus always remains on preparing students for the mental highs and lows of living in a new country for four months. 

I was set up to believe that leaving for Europe and learning the rules of Florence would be the hard part. 

In all honesty, Florence and I were constantly at war with each other, battling over my personal desires for nature and solitude, and the concrete jungle where I resided. 

However, after some personal reflection and wrestling with my own weaknesses, I came to an agreement with Florence. It is possible to dislike living in a city, and still appreciate all that Florence has done for me. 

I am different because I chose to study abroad. I am confident that my time in Florence made me smarter, stronger and self-sufficient — skills that did not develop until I was left no choice but to foster them. 

Those skills and months of self reflection still failed to adequately prepare me for coming back to campus, and I had no playbook or “how to” dedicated to returning. 

When leaving for Europe, feeling uncomfortable and out of place is anticipated and expected, but I found these emotions more prominent in my first few weeks at Gonzaga than I did my entire semester abroad. 

The hardest part about coming home is when home doesn’t feel like home anymore; when all you want is to belong and feel included, and yet, you find yourself watching your life from an outsider’s perspective. 

My frustration derived from wanting to know the rules and move from muscle memory. However, I found I didn’t even know what game I was playing. The dynamic of my friend relationships shifted, classes occurred five days a week and time needed to be accounted for scraping snow off of windshields. During my first week back, I slept through an alarm, slipped and wiped out while walking into Jepson and sat down in the wrong class. I’m a junior. 

GU has gifted me the best people I have called my friends. Leaving for Florence provided me the space to see how much these people did for me behind the scenes — all the little details that amass to so many demonstrations of love. 

Simply put, I love my friends more than I have loved anyone. Once I realized this and vocalized my appreciation, the fear of losing them became that much more prevalent. 

How cruel would it be to realize your feelings for someone, only to have them leave your life moments later? Oh, wait. That’s life. 

Closure is a privilege no one is entitled to, and more often than not, relationships just end. There is not always a greater purpose to the events we assign meaning, and the challenge of life is to accept all situations as they are. 

Luckily for me, my fears were self-imposed and I’m back to spending long nights in Foley guessing Jelly Bean flavors with my favorite people while pretending to study. 

I still find myself pulling on doors in Hemmingson that should be pushed and forgetting to swipe my ID when entering the RFC, but my frustration has quickly evolved to laughter. I may be making mistakes but I’m getting to make them at home in front of my best friends.

There’s something really special about getting roasted by your family after six months apart.

 

Nicole Glidden is a staff writer. 

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