So, here we are.
I’m writing this two weeks to the day after landing back in Scotland. I’ve started a new job; I’ve moved into a new flat. It’s like the last seven months didn’t happen: an extremely intricate dream that I’ve just woken up from. I bump into friends around campus and in supermarkets and they all ask the same question – ‘so, how was France?’ Can I answer that? It’s a difficult one.
I realise my experience is one amongst thousands. There’s a vast, eclectic international community at our own university, where each individual will have their own story to tell. They’ll have faced difficulties similar and also entirely different to my own. Erasmus and exchange students will return to Glasgow over the next few weeks and they’ll have their own memories; will now call another place ‘home, but not really’. Maybe they’ll be devastated to be back, the humdrum of daily life too different from the last year. Maybe they’ll be thrilled, ready to get back to familiarity. Students will also return from across the Channel; others will return from the other side of the globe. It’s difficult to quantify the vast experiences we all will have faced – likewise, it’s difficult to compare them to experiences our friends will have also had at home over the last year. Maybe someone has landed their dream graduate job, or made a wonderful group of friends, or simply made it through another year. These are all achievements, and matter to the individual.
So, what do I think?
This past year has been a ride, to say the least, yet it’s one I’m equally hesitant yet always willing to talk about. Hesitant because it’s not just me, and far from it – yet willing to because I don’t think it’s fair to tell someone it’s going to be perfect.
(You can’t sell something by saying ‘by the way, it’s going to have shite points, too’, and I get that. But still.)
My life, nor your life, doesn’t stop for a year for you to take 100-like worthy profile photos of you, on the beach, with the caption ‘enjoy the library! sun emoji peace emoji insert-relevant-flag-here emoji’. I mean – go for it, upload that photo – you won’t be alone in doing so. As we’d say here, the internet is not real life. It won’t always look picture-perfect. Even the person from your Italian speaking class, who’s spent the last five summers as an au pair in Sicily, will encounter problems. Just like you would in any situation, in any country, in any university or job.
Ask for help when you need it. Don’t let things build up into an unmanageable pile of poo. Think to yourself: ‘if I wouldn’t do this in Glasgow, should I do it here?’ It’s not foolproof advice, but it’s at least something. You probably won’t have the same support you had at home, be that your friends living around the corner, or the same sympathetic tutors. You can, and will, find alternatives. Even if you’re in furthest New Zealand, or just a hop to the continent, home is always there. At most, you can be at home within a day or two, if really necessary.
If this final column was my award winners’ speech, I suppose I’d have to give thanks.
So, here we go:
Thank you to my long-suffering parents. I’m sorry for making you worry so much, and I’m sorry for not telling directly about things that happened this year until you read them online, making you ring me in a panic. Thank you for learning how to make an icon on your iPad to the qmunicate website to read this column, despite us speaking almost daily.
Thank you to my equally long-suffering friends (albeit for not as long as my mum and dad). Thanks to the new friends I met this year, with whom I shared ridiculous memories as we pretended to be teachers, and thanks to the friends who stuck around from home. Thank you for letting me rant near incessantly, and thanks for letting it feel like no distance existed at all.
Thank you to my dog for still not realizing I’m not in the house whenever I shout your name during a Skype call, and you start running around, looking for me.
Thank you to cheap wine, cheap cheese and the smell of freshly baked bread in the morning.
And thank you, to you, the reader. I couldn’t give you an outline of where we’d go together when I first wrote because I had no idea myself. Thank you for taking five minutes out of your life to read about my mishaps (read: my life in general.) If you’re a current year abroad student, I hope my experiences have made you feel less alone in wondering ‘what’s the point of all this, then?’, when the going got tough. If you’re a future year abroad student, I hope I’ve not scared you off!
So, this is it. I truly hope you’ve enjoyed reading as much as I have writing, even if it wasn’t perfect all the time. It never had to be.
[Amy Shimmin – @amylfc]