There is no possible way someone who wasn’t there could understand. No matter how many stories people allow you to tell, generally three or four, they cannot possibly comprehend my year abroad.
That is why reintegration is so difficult; a distance is created between me and everyone I left. I desperately want them to understand, but they simply can’t no matter how hard they want or try to.
No matter how descriptive I am when talking about the worn cobble stone streets that every SYA girl tripped on when she wore heels her first weekend out, it isn’t enough.
But I don’t think I look any different aside from the European clothes I’ve bought over the course of the year. But in fact, I have changed. That was the biggest shock of all: that even my closest friends couldn’t see the development I found so obvious in myself.
They didn’t see me triumph in my struggle to write a three page essay in French on a book by Rousseau or maneuver my way alone through Belgium when I took the wrong train.
Coming back, we all had unrealistic expectations. They expected me to be able to fit right back in the mold I had left a year ago, and even though sometimes I want to, I simply can’t, and I expected them to understand.
All the colorful brochures said it. They highlighted School Year Abroad as a life changing experience, on where a student would grow exponentially. I took all of that with a grain of salt. The brochures were after all meant to persuade students to enroll in the program. I figured they had combed through all of the students’ quotes leaving out the less attractive ones, or altered them slightly to create just the perfect pitch for the advertisements. I was both right and wrong. They did not have to alter or search to find the perfect quote from students.
No matter which student you asked, they would almost all claim they had learned more in one year in France than they had during any other year.
They did, however, omit something that would make the SYA experience a little less alluring: the return.
Every moment of every day I miss being there.