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Is It Really Over?

Well, here we are. The end of June. I have officially been home for two weeks and have found myself re-entering the real world. I planned on writing this a while ago, but who knew the real world was so time consuming? Add that to procrastinating because I really don’t want to officially write that the semester is over, and it’s a miracle that I’m even writing this now. But alas, it’s time to address the end, a feat that I have been in denial about since I wrote my very first post back in January.

I don’t even really know where to begin. The last few weeks have been very strange and eventful and I still can’t really come to terms with the fact that I’m back home and I’m not headed back to Cardiff on the Megabus any time soon? I definitely can’t believe that when I go back to school I’m going back to Iowa and not Wales. Despite only being there for five months as opposed to the three full semesters that I’ve done at Drake, Cardiff feels more like home than Des Moines. I think much of that is due to the fact that this semester felt much more like moving away to college. Doing a semester abroad requires a much larger sense of independence, especially in my case considering my home university is relatively close to home. In the states, at least for the first year or so, many universities are much more involved in the lives of the students. From meal plans to RAs in the dorms, you really aren’t required to be that self-reliant. In Cardiff, I was living without a meal plan and outside of a dorm building for the first time. Not only did I have to learn how to live in a new country, I had to learn how to do real life type things. My first independent grocery shopping was done in a grocery store where I recognized less than 10% of the products.

I think the quick entrance into such an independent lifestyle was a really good way to learn how to adapt. Adaptation definitely became one of the biggest themes of the entire trip. As a result of being continuously thrown into environments that I had absolutely no familiarity with I had to learn how to perceive a location and figure out how to react. Arriving in an airport in a new country after getting no sleep the night before to try and figure out ground transportation in a foreign language is probably one of the more overwhelming things I’ve ever done. But after you do it six times over the course of three weeks, it becomes something you don’t even have to think about. Much like how imminent sense of fear that happened following any arrival in a new country, the ability to identify the things I needed to do to be successful in that country became second nature. As someone who is very adamant about planning and scheduling, learning how to adopt a more ‘go with the flow’ attitude made the trip much more enjoyable.

Studying abroad teaches you a lot of new things on top of the obvious studying you have to do at the actual school that you quickly forget you have to do in between all of the other adventuring. I learned adaptation, perspective, cultural understanding, how to find a plane ticket for under $30, that British chocolate is better than American, how to live out of one bag for a month, and that trains are the superior form of public transportation. I learned things that I don’t think I could have ever learned had I not spent this semester in Cardiff. It is for that reason that I cannot more highly recommend studying abroad. Whether it’s for a two week class or a full year, spend some kind of time studying in another country. Obviously I’m biased towards the UK at this point, but just pick a country that you have some semblance of an interest in and just go for it. If there is any part of you that may kind of want to try it, just fill in the application and try.

With that being said, it’s also important to understand that while yes, there are plenty of incredibly opportunities, it’s still school and there’s still a lot of responsibility. I got to cross of countless things on my bucket list, but I also had to keep up with some of the hardest schoolwork that I have ever had to work with. That’s not to say that it’s because my classes were that hard, it was largely because you have to learn how to succeed in a completely foreign educational system. Those little study tricks that you’ve finally mastered in your second year of college may be completely obsolete in a different country. But I think by learning how to succeed (hopefully, I don’t find out my grades for another month or so) in a new place, I will have a new perspective on succeeding in the school that I’m used to.

The whole concept of coming home was something that was completely outside my realm of understanding until I landed at the Minneapolis airport. Cardiff had become the only thing I knew, and I really couldn’t comprehend leaving it all behind. I was very excited to come home, but that didn’t mean I wanted to leave behind everything I had come to love. I am no longer able to just wake up in the morning and walk down to the train station to get a ticket for under $10 to a completely new city. Gone are the Wednesday nights introducing American staples (mostly pancakes) to new British friends, and spending the mornings exploring Bute Park. I already miss the biscuit aisle at Tesco and am counting down the days until I can get my hands on an authentic Welsh Cake. Even though I got to do things I’ve wanted to do for a decade, my bucket list is now longer than it was before I left.

Meanwhile, I’m in the midst of returning to American life and all of the things I found myself craving during my time away. For the most part, things have changed since I left, which is something you don’t really realize before you leave. Life goes on back home even though you’re not there, except my bedroom which was still in Christmas mode exactly as I left it back in January. Fortunately returning to American life was much easier than I anticipated, although I think the biggest reverse culture shock will present itself when I return to school in the fall.  I don’t really know how I’m going to be able to survive school without being able to just hop on a train to anywhere on the weekends. Rural Iowa just doesn’t compare to the UK. Now that I’ve seen how much more is out there, I’m going to have a really hard time staying in one place for so long.The biggest difficulty I’ve had with returning home is the drastic climate difference. I left a cool Cardiff summer to a hot Minnesota summer. As soon as I stepped off the plane I was sweating, and since then my body has been wishing for the mild weather I left in Wales.

I will be infinitely grateful for the opportunity to spend this past semester in Cardiff. I’m grateful for my parents for helping make it possible, grateful for all of the staff at Drake, IFSA, and Cardiff for having programs, information, and help that made it a reality, and all of my friends, both old and new, for going on the adventure along side me. As much as I’ve talked about learning how to be independent, there is no way I could have done it on my own. Living in a new country, even if only for five months, is something that I could not have accomplished without the help of all of those people.

The semester was in no way easy, but it’s an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything. And on that note, I must bring this post to an end. In addition to everything else I’ve learned this year, this blog has helped me learn to enjoy writing and I’m very happy to have spent the hours working on it. As always, if you have any questions feel free to leave a comment below.

Diolch yn fawr,

Lauren

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