When I first arrived back to the UK as the plane landed I cried. The tears streamed down my face because I was finally returning for good after what felt like such a surreal experience. Initially in the first couple of months of my return, I felt like I didn't go anywhere. It was as if my year in California with the beautiful beaches, endless supply of burritos and a random sighting of Will Smith at the Aladdin Premier in LA was nothing but a dream. So, when family and friends would eagerly ask about my year abroad, my responses were often very bland variations of 'it was interesting' and 'it was good' simply because I had not processed what had just happened.
Before leaving Pitzer College our exchange advisor explained how there would be a process of readjusting but I didn't know how difficult it would be. Recovering from jet lag was the first hurdle, then I missed the food and over the few months of my return as I watched back videos and smiled at pictures I started to miss the people. I had spent a whole year with some of the most intriguing, talented and hilarious people I had ever come across. We laughed about our different accents, discussed politics, religion, celebrities, and watched Beyoncé's 'Homecoming' together before finally hugging on graduation day. It was hard to appreciate these moments while they were happening, especially in the second semester, because I finally started to feel like a part of Pitzer college. I finally felt like a real student as opposed to one on exchange and just as that comfort began, I was on a plane back to the UK.
One of the biggest things that I have realised on returning from my year abroad is that I am a much better listener. Travelling to a different country you can't help but be a student of your surroundings. Every person that I met, conversation I had or opinion I heard I listened deeply because it was new and different. A stand out moment for me was a class I took in my second semester called the 'Inside -Out Prison Exchange Progam' where every week we would take a class at a prison alongside inmates. What initially seemed somewhat daunting, turned into a lesson on empathy and listening. There was one member of my group who was an inmate and during most classes we would engage in conversation. On one particular day while working on our group project he starting telling me about his story. As I listened mesmerised by his words and his desires for when he is released, he told me I had such a calm and kind nature about me. This solidified for me the truth that there is a beauty in listening. Even in a familiar environment the mesmerising can be discovered if you just listen a bit more intently.
I'm often asked by family friends why on earth I didn't pick up the Californian accent to which I laugh and respond that would have never happened. I had no desire to become Americanised during my year abroad, and I am somewhat embarrassed to say that during my time there I became a little patriotic to my British roots. Since I have returned I have come to appreciate a lot of things about living in the UK such as free health care and student loans. Once a die-hard America fan, a year abroad helped me to take off my rose-tinted glasses and see America in a way that I had never perceived before- a nation that operates in extremes. When a thing is excellent, it is world class and when something or someone is mean or opinionated they also do that to an extreme level. It was an interesting, yet slightly unsettling observation, making me question on my arrival to the UK if I could ever live in the US.
Although I don't feel as though I could live in the US I would love to go back, explore new states and meet even more amazing people. The country is an enigma and I believe it is home to some of the most innovative, intelligent and confident young people in the world. The world is so much bigger than your town, your University or your country. There is so much to see and do and most importantly so much to listen to. My year abroad was not a fairy-tale but it has significantly contributed to the woman that I'm becoming and for that I will always be grateful.