I went home to Roswell last weekend for the first time in six months. I opened the door to my childhood bedroom and I found everything untouched; everything from the pictures on my wall to the little trinkets on my bookshelf was exactly the way I left it. Nothing had changed.
That’s how I felt when I came back to New Mexico over a month ago after my semester in Austria. I felt like everything had stayed the same. I thought I would struggle driving home after months without a car but my arms and feet were responding more quickly than I could tell them what to do. Every road and curve was still there, and the next morning, when I woke up in my bed, I had to take a couple seconds to figure out what was real and what wasn’t. It felt like I had just woken up from a long and beautiful dream that unfortunately, but eventually, had to end.
The first week back was definitely the hardest. I felt so excited to be back, but at the same time, I was so strangely uncomfortable in a place that has always been my home and my “comfort zone.” Everything in my life had changed so much; I had had so many unforgettable experiences and met so many amazing people, but all of a sudden I was back to where I started. I had class in the same rooms, saw the same people, and walked the same steps I had for three years prior to leaving for Austria.
The best part about being back was talking to all my other friends who studied abroad too. They each had unique experiences from so many different corners of the world–from Central and South America all the way over to Australia. We each had such a different time experiencing such a variety of cultures and places, and it was great to be able to reconnect over our travels and stories. After the first couple of weeks though, everyone stopped talking about their adventures, and we sank back into the routine that we had become so familiar with these past several semesters: Go to class, go home, do your homework, sleep, repeat, etc. And now we are suddenly more than a quarter of the way into the semester, and I’m supposed to be planning graduation coming up in less than three months. It’s just a weird feeling to see how quickly what I always considered “the future” is approaching, but it’s always rewarding to look back and see how far I’ve come.
I truly believe that taking a semester (a year if you can) to experience life in a different place is the most rewarding experience a person can have. I’ve always been very studious. I love to challenge myself in school and I love to learn, but I cannot tell you how much there is to learn outside the classroom. Besides my constant effort to learn German through my daily encounters, I learned so much about the rich European history I was constantly surrounded by, and so much about different cultures from all the exchange students and locals I met. On a more personal note, I learned to handle things on my own. I feel independent, and that I can confidently go anywhere and do anything I set my mind to.
I’m glad I chose to go to Graz because it was the perfect city for me. Graz is the second biggest city in Austria, but it’s not too big, and definitely not too small. It was big enough to have everything I need, but small enough to really get to know and explore. Right along what many people call the cross-path of Eastern and Western Europe, it was well connected by buses, rail and even a little airport. This made it really easy to travel and get around on the weekends. The Austrians were so nice, and I felt welcomed by all the people I met. I made some really great friends, and I actually just found out a couple of my Austrian friends are coming to visit in August!
One of the most important things I learned in Austria, though, was the language. Knowing another language can give you insight into a culture that you really cannot explore in any other way. I was able to interact with locals, read things from a different perspective, and also take classes that really took me out of my comfort zone (I’m originally a Chemistry major who is also Pre-Med, but I didn’t take a single science course in Graz). I didn’t realize how much better my German had gotten until I came back to my German classes here at UNM. I can see now, though, how much I have grown and progressed. I actually took enough German classes last semester that I will even graduate with a double major in German and Chemistry this May.
I think studying abroad is one of those things that you can never really explain to people, because each person has such a unique and special experience. Most of the people I’ve met though describe this experience as unforgettable and even life-changing. So, if you’re reading this. and you’re on the fence about studying abroad, I would say go for it. I would say you most likely won’t regret it and you will probably have the time of your life–I know I did.
Walking back to my dorm from my last day of class in Graz:
My first sunset back in New Mexico: