The Best of Two Continents – Cultivating Your Image Abroad

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Never in my wildest childhood dreams did I think that I’d pull a Hannah Montana and get The Best of Both Worlds– or in my case, the best of two continents. I’m not quite sure what I expected when I went abroad. Part of me had grasped the concept of starting a new- sort of -life, but I hadn’t anticipated the extremity of such a start. The thing is, when you pick up your life and move halfway across the world, where July is Winter and December is summer, things change. There, on the other side of the world, they had no idea who I was. At Rice, I’d spent two years cultivating an image (AKA me as I am) and had all these established relationships and positions in various clubs. But in Australia, who I was had never existed before, and that was a weird concept.

Fortunately, it was pretty easy to re-establish myself in Melbourne, but the person I had established there was also different than the person at Rice. At the core of it all, I was the same person; I had the same morals, the same values, and was still as aggressively friendly as ever. But I was in different groups, different clubs, and I had different friends.

Translating that back home, and vice versa, was difficult. In one week, I had experienced so much and learned so much that I often found I couldn’t share it with people back home. There were so many names of people I had met that meant nothing to them. Standard fixtures in my life stopped having any relevance to them. While it’s entirely possibly to still share your life with someone across a long distance, it’s not to the same degree as if they were standing right there with you. Every story I told, short as it might’ve been, had to have a ten minute build up so I could explain who every character was and give the context of the situation to better their understanding. Soon, as a function of the 17-hour time gap and buildup of stories, I stopped being able to say all that Iwanted to say. So here I was, living my life in Melbourne and having experiences that would, upon returning home, only be memories in my own head- experiences only I had.

I recall feeling incredibly lonely the first few days, a feeling that many other students who had gone abroad felt. There were things that I missed that I couldn’t explain to other people. I missed the way the sunlight streamed through the staircases I took every day, my friends voices in the dining hall as they teased each other about the number of desserts they ate, and the familiar feeling I got walking around (I’m crying now, as I remember it all). These things are all pictures in my head, feelings that I can’t give to other people and say “feel what I am feeling.” But at the same time, I can’t turn around and do the same to my friends abroad. When I try to tell them how my life is here, there are things here that are the norm for me that I can’t explain to them without their physical presence.

Without being too dramatic, it feels as though I have two separate lives. I have my life here at Rice, where my friends and I share the same struggles and are in the same classes/groups. But I also have my life in Australia, where we live and eat in the city and everything is always changing. In the first few weeks, I really pushed to mash my lives together. See, in a perfect world, all my friends would be in the same place. That way, I wouldn’t have to share stories or always try to explain things. But with the thousands of (real) miles in between us, such a life isn’t feasible. They say the first step is acceptance- accepting that things are different and that I do have areas of my life that don’t necessarily intersect, and that’s ok. I’m not really sure what step two is, but it probably has something to do with figuring out what to do with this new information. So here’s what I’m doing: I’m going to stop trying to force everything in my life to live under one roof, I’m going to focus on expanding the relationships I have in each area of my life inways that feel natural, and I’m going to bring up my “other” life whenever it’s relevant. What I’m not going to do, however, is aggressively try to mesh my lives together or let one of those fade away and become a dream.

Here are some plausible ways to do this:

  • Keep a journal- this way you don’t forget things
  • Make monthly skype dates with your out of country friends- there’s no need to act like it
    never happened and this keeps your memory and your friendships alive
  • Show pictures when you talk about your time abroad- why explain a visual concept when
    you can show it
  • Actively think about things that you can talk about that are relevant regardless of which
    “life” you are interacting with
  • Talk to other study abroad students- you’re not the only one, several people might be
    going through the same thing as you

Who says you can’t get the best of both worlds? If Hannah Montana can do it, so can I.

Kaysie Tam was a Mechanical Engineering major at Rice University, and studied abroad with IFSA through the University of Melbourne, Australia in the fall of 2016. 

Article by Kaysie Tam