You’re thinking about studying abroad this spring. But you have FOMO about missing a semester at Yale. I was in Spain in the spring and France during the summer, and I had to fight for it, but I’m not here to explain to you what it’s like going there and how worth it it’ll be — I’ve written tens of thousands of words about it, and they would take hours to synthesize. Rather, I’m here to tell you what it’s like to come back.
Being reintroduced to one of the most productive and hardworking enclaves of American society after being abroad for eight months is quite something.
As I was lacing up my shoes after my first water polo practice back a couple weeks ago, I thought about the newness of this place around me. And I realized, coming back is like putting on a pair of shoes again. But these shoes are uncomfortable. I’m a few sizes off, and after some time, it’s not easy to fit them on again. So far, here’s my status report on how it feels to be back.
For one, people talk FAST here. My friends talk fast. I talk fast. We all know that humans are great at imitating. In Spain and France, because everyone around me talked slower, I talked slower. It was so much easier to absorb what the person across from me was saying. It was easier for me to be present with them, to pay attention, to look at them as if they were the only person in the world.
At Yale, my slowness in speech is disappearing with each and every day. As I’ve heard only fast around me, I have absorbed the fast. When talking to someone here, there is a little voice in the back of my head reminding me to talk slower — pleading for me to retreat to my old ways. Though I know this voice will get quieter with time, it will never truly die. It is Europe’s imprint on me.
This quickness is not just in speaking, but thinking as well. Those times where I could get a coffee in a public square in Avignon or Aix-en-Provence, and just sit without stress, have come to an end. Now there are a slew of recurring thoughts in my head that poke at my brain. Post-graduation plans. Class readings. Making the most of senior year. Exercise/health. That book that I bought in May that I never got to. College is just one of those places where you could be chilling in your common room and have a million thoughts racing through your head. And it’s not that I didn’t think about these aspects of life in Europe, but everything just feels more pronounced. From when I flew into New Haven and its small, perfectly regional-sized airport, something had changed. It’s as if there is a collective consciousness that drives things here, and it’s easier to see through after being gone for so long.
The craziest aspects of being back are the moments that remind me of the past. One day, I’m in Sterling Library and I overheard a family speaking French. The teenage boy has a Paris shirt, so I instinctively greet them in French. “Beautiful library right? Have a great day.” As I’m walking away from them towards the stacks, I stare up at the ceiling. I notice the arches that remind me of the Alhambra, the gothic church windows and the torch-shaped lights on the wall.
“There’s no way that interaction would’ve happened a few months ago, huh?” I wonder in awe at myself.
The next day, I’m in my science lecture. As the professor mentions that a certain species was discovered in Morocco, I remember riding that camel in the Sahara, singing Spanish/Italian karaoke on the bus there, getting the few hours of sleep I could every night. “Doing excellent, my friend,” I hear a Greek I met say in my head.
And then my mind jolts back to reality, where the class has already moved onto the next slide. I look around at the beautiful classroom I’m in and feel a sense of gratitude I haven’t experienced in a while. “Ground your feet,” I hear my old Public Speaking teacher say in my head.
And one afternoon, I’m hearing the sweet sounds of a violin outside of a dorm window, on the walkway between JE and Branford. It’s probably someone in the Yale Symphony Orchestra practicing for sections. The notes they play remind me of the double stop exercise book I pored through in middle school, excruciatingly restarting every note that sounded even a bit scratchy in a race to perfection. I would angle my bow a little differently each time, laser focused on playing the cleanest note possible. I’m suddenly transported back to standing in the walkway, and I stay there for a minute to relish the sound of someone perfecting their craft. My intuition of taking everything in has extended past my memories abroad.
Since I’ve returned, I appreciate Yale more than ever. I’m sensitive again — I feel alive again — in response to all the things that were normal to me sophomore and junior year. I truly enjoy exiting Sterling Library from the front entrance and being confronted with blinding sunlight, and a beautiful, green Cross Campus, while listening to Si tu m’aimes demain by Iliona. While I was pressured to complain about the heat when we first arrived, I relish in the last warm walks I’ll ever have through the Pierson Gateway until maybe graduation. Another thing, it’s funny how easy it is to tell that someone couldn’t care less about my time abroad and is just asking “How was it?” as a formality. And the endless things to do and fill your time with! At the end of the day, Yale’s a fun-ass game of whack-a-mole.
What’s great about these “shoes” is — at the end of the day — I am easing into them again. It feels weird escalating your mindset to such an extreme state of busyness again. Sometimes it can feel frustrating to struggle putting on shoes you haven’t touched in a while, while watching all your classmates waltz through Yale like it’s another normal semester. And it can feel lonely knowing that many of the experiences that form your identity, nobody on campus can relate with.
But learning to sit in shock and think about something that happened long ago, saying to yourself “Wow, that happened,” and coalescing it with the present, is one of the most underrated feelings in the world. It’s something you feel like nobody but you understands in the best way.
And that’s the beauty of it — you’re reminded that you accomplished this thing that you wanted deep down in the face of outside pressures, and that you’re the only one who can prevent yourself from doing it all over again.
So, go abroad. I guarantee you’ll never look at Yale the same again — in the best way.
It’s sunset, and I’m walking home from water polo practice. I hear the crickets coming out along with the night sky. I glance across the street through the window of Ashley’s Ice Cream, and see a crowd of first years smiling over whatever sundaes they got. They were probably talking about their classes, what clubs they signed up for, how excited they were just to be at Yale and to have met each other.
“You know what?” I think to myself and smile.
“I feel the same.”