Winter break is always the time for college students to relax and regain sanity after a long and stressful semester. Especially if it is your first semester home from college, it can be a time where you will be asked a million and one questions. The top three that I always get asked are:
“Do you like it there [at your respective college]?”
“What did you do this semester, how was everything?”
And, my personal favorite:
“How were your grades?”
If it is your first break back from college you will probably respond to these questions with elaborate details and long explanations, but once you become a seasoned upperclassmen you usually sum everything up with one sentence. Interestingly enough, this semester I was abroad and you can’t come back from a lavish trip to Spain with one-worded answers, so I had to give a little more explanation to how my semester was. It was kind of like it was the first time I came home from college all over again because studying abroad is such a completely different experience.
It’s been a couple of weeks since I got back from one of the most incredible experiences of my life, and although I am still jet lagged from my 14 hours of traveling back to the United States, I do not regret my study abroad experience for anything. During my last day in Spain I experienced a lot of reflection (and tears) because Salamanca truly became not just my home but a place that has helped me become a better person. Leaving the town behind is one thing, but I can’t even begin to express how sad it was getting on the bus to the airport and leaving my host family behind because they probably changed me the most and will always have a place in my heart–I miss them so much. From saying goodbye to all of my favorite shops and restaurants to all of my new Spanish friends, to the elementary school kids I volunteered with, to even my favorite professor at the university, it all seemed so surreal once I boarded my plane to Chicago. I became so accustomed to the Spanish lifestyle that as much as I was ready to go home, I could not fathom being back in the States.
Twenty four hours later I hopped off the plane at O’Hare airport and I was so confused because all of the signs were in English, and just yesterday I was finally starting to think in Spanish. It was definitely a bittersweet feeling being at the airport because it was starting to hit me that my Spanish experience was actually over. But things became sweeter when I saw my mom and brother after four months of being away from home. Not to mention, I could not wait to get back to my favorite American foods. My first meal back, Buffalo Wild Wings, was incredible. Sinking my teeth into those hot wings was so satisfying.
But of course I didn’t come home the same person I was when I left, and I can assure everybody that after any study abroad experience, coming home the same would be virtually impossible. The good news is that this is not a bad thing! After being back for a week now I can say that yes, there are many things I appreciate about the US, like the free water at restaurants, or that people are a bit friendlier on the streets, but there are many things that I miss and will continue to miss about Spain, like the fresh baked croissants every morning, or the siestas, or the fact that the whole family eats lunch together everyday, because I think those things are very valuable.
Overall I just feel so blessed and full of gratitude that I got the chance to go abroad even though I was so against it in the beginning because I was extremely afraid of change. I now know that change is so important, because when you have change in your life it subconsciously changes your perspective of the world and helps you see the world from a different angle. I can’t express all of the changes that I feel I have gone through, but I believe I have come back to the US more open and more appreciative. Even if you are just coming home from a regular semester at college, I think each semester changes you in different ways. I remember coming home for the first time and I was a little bit more knowledgeable; I was starting to form my own opinions on things, some that were a little different than my family’s, and I felt like I had a new perspective on the world. Your family will definitely notice how you are maturing and growing each time you come back from college and especially as a first-generation, low-income student, your family may not always understand college life and all of the things you may be going through while you are away. I suggest that when you have breaks from college you should definitely take time to rest, but also take time to reflect, because you only have the undergrad experience once, and this is the time when you really come into yourself as a a person. So as much as we don’t like answering those million and one questions, we should, because just by reflecting on our experiences aloud we are helping our families, as well as ourselves, understand the incredible changes we are going through.
P.S. You should also throw in some internship applications during winter break to stay ahead of the game!
— Ashley Land, Quest Scholar, Pomona ’16