While at OSU, Charlene was an Environmental Science and International Degree student with a minor in German. She studied abroad at Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg (Freiburg, Germany) on the OUS Baden-Württemberg Exchange Program during the 2012-2013 academic year. Now, she has moved back to Freiburg to attend a Master’s program. In this entry, Charlene writes about the challenges associated with returning to live in to the place she studied abroad.
One morning last December I was completely absorbed in thought while on my way to class. It was raining and I was waiting to cross the street. I was in Freiburg, and had been for about three months. During those three months I had moved twice, completed three Master’s courses and been selected to be a student representative for our class generation. But this morning, my mind was reaching back into the not-so-distant-past. If you’ve been abroad before, you know that those experiences never leave you. I had spent my junior year in Germany and my senior year back at OSU, devising my return to Germany for graduate school.
On this rainy morning I asked myself if I was really back in Freiburg; the Freiburg I longed for during my senior year in Oregon. My Master’s program is in English. This is both a blessing and a curse in Germany. Although I can study with ease, it is often difficult to find time to practice German. This time in Germany, my life is completely different than it was two years ago. After my first time abroad, I arrived back to the states to finish my last year at OSU. I came home with a suitcase and a bag of “post-study-abroad-blues”. It was difficult to readjust to every day life and culture in the United States. Yet, here I was on this dreary morning, standing in Germany once again, feeling just as disjointed and unprepared for re-adaption back into Freiburg as I had felt when returning to the U.S. a year before.
As I stood underneath gloomy skies akin to those in Corvallis, I began to reflect on my readjustment to the United States. I suddenly felt a tinge of regret and bitterness when I remembered how I had struggled to re-embrace my own culture the previous year. Why was I reflecting on this? Wasn’t I happy to be back abroad? I was just beginning to come out of my re-culture-shock phase of living in Germany again. Many things in Freiburg were different than I had remembered and, many things had simply changed while I was gone. I had also changed through my re-adaptation to the United States. I began to realize these circumstances and feelings were very similar to how I’d felt in the United States, so why had I now been re-experiencing this in Freiburg?
Quite simply: each study abroad experience for each person, each place and each purpose, is very unique and individual, maybe even one-of-a-kind. It is not something to be recreated, even when we consciously or subconsciously decide to do just that! I realized I had subconsciously hoped that my journey back to Freiburg as a Master’s student would return me to that romantic junior year of study abroad when German culture, language and the irrevocably liberating independence of living abroad for the first time, were all so foreign to me.
It finally dawned on me: we are responsible for the interpretation of our own experiences.
Returning to your first study abroad destination again for an extended period can allow you to better process and reflect on that remarkable experience, especially in fully unpacking and contextualizing its significance in your life. But don’t forget, life’s a trip- it takes us places- but never in reverse. New adventures lie ahead.
To read Charlene’s entry about her first time abroad follow this link.