The difficulties of returning from a Year Abroad

August 22nd was arguably one of the most difficult days I can remember. It marked the end of my year abroad studying in California. I fell in love with San Luis Obispo, CA, almost instantly. Don’t get me wrong, during the start of my time there I had difficult days where I cried on Facetime to my mum, but it was an incredible year filled with incredible experiences.

I met so many amazing, fun and loving people (including Jacob), and got the chance to experience new things I never would have by staying at home. The more it hurts when something ends, the more it meant to you and the more you got out of it. Saying that, if you told me that during the first initial days I probably would have just responded with tears.

The beautiful Poly Canyon, San Luis Obispo at sunrise

The impending departure

It’s a weird feeling getting ready to leave somewhere you have called home for a year. In the week leading up to my departure I was determined to make the most of it and have fun, without dwelling on the impending flight. This was a lot easier said than done.  I would see a plane in the sky or hear a sad song on the radio and my eyes would soon be filled with tears. I learned throughout that last week, it was OK to cry and be upset about leaving, but it was really important not to let it ruin your last few days. I found sitting surrounded by nature or the people I loved and just really appreciating what I had and how lucky I was to have has this opportunity really helped.

The goodbyes

As I left SLO in June before travelling for the summer, I had to say goodbye to my friends there a long time before I actually left to go home. The distraction of setting off to explore  helped a lot. Some of my good friends from my university at home in England has also spent a year abroad so I knew they too would be returning to finish their courses and that I would be seeing the very soon.  By far the hardest goodbye, was leaving Jacob at LAX airport. It is known amongst my friends that I don’t deal well with goodbyes at the best of times, but this was a whole new level. It was almost impossible for me to walk away into the terminal. In fact I didn’t. He had to be the one to call it and get back into the car and drive off.  It felt like someone had taken a part of me and left and that I would never be happy again. This obviously isn’t true at all. It is incredibly difficult but it is important to remember that a) it isn’t goodbye forever and b) how amazingly lucky you are to have met someone who you care about leaving so much. My only advice for getting over the year abroad goodbyes is time, distractions and trying to keep a positive outlook. It is very tough but the experience of a Year abroad is worth this. See here for tips on how to create a positive attitude.

The Journey

Obviously this will be different depending on where you are travelling to and from. For me, the journey was a challenge even when I wasn’t upset. On my return I had an 11 hour flight to Stockholm, a 6 hour lay over and a further 2 and a half hour flight to Manchester, UK. After previously stating my flight back to LA at Christmas was the worst flight in history (my flights were delayed, my bag got lost and I hadn’t eaten in about 20 hours), I have changed my mind. This was the worst flight EVER.  I didn’t actually want to get on the plane, but of course I had to. I was crying uncontrollably for the entire 20 hours and for a lot of the journey I had no Wi-Fi and so no way to talk to anyone. I was simply sitting on a tiny aeroplane seat feeling incredibly lonely and heartbroken. I couldn’t listen to music because it made me too sad and my eyes were so tired from  crying yet I was too distressed to sleep. There isn’t really much you can do to stop this part of the processes from being upsetting. I tried looking forward to being home and seeing my family for the first time in 8 months. If these don’t work you can check out this page for 24 things to do on a plane!

Journey from hell, but the sunset was beautiful

Arriving back at home

Actually getting back to my house was a strange sensation. It felt like nothing had changed but at the same time everything had changed, simply because I wasn’t the same person I was when I left. My sister and grandparents came over soon after I got home and we ordered Indian takeout while I gave a brief overview of my time away. It felt almost normal, but it also felt dream like. It didn’t seem real that I was home, that this year had happened and I was here telling my family the stories I had gathered along the way. I was lucky enough to be going straight off to Leeds music festival the very next day with my sister and some friends, which turned out to be a very nice distraction. The first few nights are extremely difficult, I used to dread having to go to bed because I knew I was just going to be alone with my thoughts which often led to me getting upset. This feeling does pass, and though I do have my bad days, on the whole this sad feeling soon fades.

Leeds Festival

Another weird feeling is adjusting to being back at home. I kept pulling out in my car on the wrong side of the road, or opening the passenger door instead of the drivers. Even after being back 4 weeks, it still doesn’t feel right driving on the left hand side of the road. I also found that I’d subconsciously picked up a lot of American phrases and words, much to the amusement of my family.

Sitting here now, the night before I drive back down to Birmingham to complete my final year at university, I still can’t believe this year happened. This past 4 weeks have been very challenging. There have been days where I have been so happy, smiling and grateful, and there have been days where I’ve felt mad at someone for having an English accent, for the rain and for the fact that I’m still crying.  Initially it is difficult to see far enough ahead to realise the sadness will fade. I know I am an over dramatic and an over emotional person making the processes especially difficult for me.

People tell you 100 times that everything will be OK, but I felt very lonely, it didn’t feel like anyone really knew what I was going through. I felt almost like a stranger in my own country. Despite how upset or lonely or pissed you might feel, it does get better. The leaving to go home is the part of the Year Abroad they didn’t prep you for in your departure meetings. It’s awful and heartbreaking (at least it was for me), but the experience of living in the beautiful place I did for a year, by far outweighed the bad of returning home. On the bad days go out and do things you love. I really focused on things I am passionate about; I wrote, I did yoga, I worked out, I played with my dogs and I saw my friends. All of these help you to realise that although it might not be ideal, or what you really want, you are lucky and you should be grateful to be surrounded by the people and place you call home.


Not even gone on your Year Abroad yet?

Read my post on ”How to survive a year abroad



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