I’ve been home from my exchange for a while now, but sometimes something still feels wrong.
I can admit to it now, but I didn’t immerse myself terribly deeply in my host country’s culture. Maybe I got spoiled on Concordia Language Villages too early (a very real possibility). Also, Swedes (as I have been told at CLV for many years) are hard to crack in terms of making friends, and I didn’t (and don’t) find it safe to use their preferred methods of easing the awkwardness – aka copious alcohol and partying up and down the city all night. Frankly I don’t think it counts as being friends if you’re too awkward to talk to each other sober. But I might be picky. And in addition to that, the friend group that I fell in with early on (and liked) was all other international students, and I was among the few who did have some prior knowledge of Swedish culture.
Was it a culture change? Yes, definitely. Was it Swedish culture I changed to? Not entirely.
Of course, what kind of camp experience would I have had if I didn’t participate in (one way or another) some evening program sometime about what culture really constitutes, but for the time being we won’t get too inquisitive about the definition thereof.
Umeå student culture does involve lots of drinking and rowdy basement parties, it’s true. And it was here that my experience with these things really began. But I was as awkward in these contexts abroad as I would have been at home. I recall going to one particular club with my friends once; there was a coatroom, but the fee was cash only, and I had none, so I carted my shabby gray Jansport (stuffed full with my black wool coat) around on my back on the dance floor. Not kidding. Until I got sick of it and stowed it in a corner behind the room divider and then never danced more than two feet away from that spot all night. And I wasn’t even drunk – I don’t think I had had anything to drink that night at all.
Honestly, that out-of-place-ness and uncertainty did not go away for me until the very end. I was constantly aware of how adrift I was, how far from home. How if somebody assaulted me on my way home from a party, I could have lain in the snow until morning or longer, God knows what happening to my body in the meantime. I was meticulous, even anal, about getting back to my home (admittedly a fifteen-minute bike away from the more studenty neighborhoods) before the end of the night, and almost never going from Party Location A to Spontaneous Party Location B, C or D, and I often canceled or was late even to things I really wanted to go to from subtle fear and nerves, and if I did get there on time I often left early. And sometimes I got hopelessly lost and it was just a matter of me finding a landmark or some wifi so I could work my way home, never mind to the original goal. (I will forever curse Google Maps for developing their offline functionality barely months after I ended my exchange and came home.)
I chalked it up to being an introvert, or being depressed because of the lack of light, or both, but honestly it ran me through the wringer a couple times. It didn’t help that every time I stayed home from something I wound up berating myself for not making the most of my chances, which, depending on the original emotional climate, sometimes got me to curling up in a ball, crying, wondering if I should go home and stop torturing myself. (If ever the Catholic church wants to canonize Sam, I submit my year abroad as evidence of his saintly patience.)
Would I do it again tomorrow? Yes.
And I’m not saying that just for the shock value. Blah blah blah experience was not as great as they always say, blah blah blah would still do it. None of that. Serious as the grave. If tomorrow were August 20, 2015, and I knew what I know now, I’d still get on that plane.
I’m a lot more cautious than I ever used to be. Pocatello feels a lot smaller than before, of course. But it also feels a lot scarier. I don’t know if that’s my worldly wise talking, or if it really has gotten less safe, but if it’s one or the other then I think I know which. And then that begs the question, how did I never ever realize how big and scary a place Pocatello is, even if it isn’t to me now?
I’m a lot more independent, even for somebody who started out that way. Coming home is hard, because I love my family and don’t mind having somebody else cook the dinner for once, and a change is as good as a rest, as my parents say. But I’m used to doing things my own way now. It may sound silly to say that being home obtrudes upon my personal habit of taking a bath and watching Steven Crowder’s radio broadcasts on YouTube really loud, but it kind of does. (Oh, the shame.)
Also, I hate how much my life revolves around school. I haven’t had a spare minute all semester long, I swear, and I’m tired of sacrificing sanity and showers and sleep for homework and Alpha Kappa Psi and other stuff. And I’m no dummy; I know how to-do lists work; I know that in order to check things off you have to do them. I’m still annoyed that I have to do them. I don’t know when I got so tired, and I don’t know how to stop being.
I wanted to spend my break working on my applications to go to Germany next summer and catching up on Japanese homework. I have done about 10% of those things. I worked on my essay for Germany today for a little bit and then stopped because I was just tired. I am so tired of thinking and working and driving myself ever forward, and I really don’t see an end, and if that doesn’t scare me more.
Well, this is cheerful. I promise I’m grateful for some things. Maybe I’ll stop stewing and just go to sleep and enjoy my time off.