When I first arrived in Maastricht for my semester abroad, it was tough and scary and lonely… for about 18 hours. And immediately afterwards I felt a great feeling of relief settling over me like I was finally letting go of months of tension. Relief that I had escaped. I had gotten out of Vancouver, which had been bogging me down with exams, boy drama, and living with my parents again, and escaped into this magical fairy-tale (literally) world of freedom and new experiences. I was finally free to reinvent my identity whichever way I pleased, and the best thing was that nobody gave a fuck who or what or how I was. And I finally felt welcome, if only by a small group of people. But it was mostly the freedom that gave me that headrush of stupid happiness.
It’s not like I hadn’t lived in another country before, and I had long moved out of my parents’ house. But somehow the experience of settling down somewhere for a limited but concrete amount of time, with the knowledge that I could do – and be – anything for those few months, was completely different than traveling or living alone or anything else I had done. I think this is the feeling that every exchange (study abroad) student experiences.
I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t stay like that. Almost two years later, I’m about to finish my last exams for my Master’s degree in Holland, having gone briefly back to Vancouver and returned again to try my luck at getting into graduate school. It’s nothing like it used to be. Perhaps it’s being a Master’s student instead of a semester-abroad student, but I think it’s the adaptation process. I’ve been here for too long.
There is no sense of freedom, although theoretically I could still do and be whatever the fuck I want… but now I have commitments. My room, my university fees and performance, my health insurance, my boyfriend. It’s not worse than it was in Maastricht – it’s just the same as it was in Vancouver, before I got sick of it. You adapt to places so incredibly fast – and so quickly, they lose all of their magic and their charm.
You know why I know this? My eczema is flaring up again. I didn’t have it once while living in Maastricht for exchange. Not once. I always had it in Vancouver in the winter, and now I have it in Leiden in the winter. My body has officially adapted to life in Holland. It’s no different than anywhere else.
The point of this post, I suppose, is to say to anyone who has not yet studied abroad to do it and enjoy it to the fullest; and to anyone who has, to assure you (in case you were doubting it) that a) it will never be the same if you go back to that place and b) it will never be the same, period. Hopefully it will be better some day, but that unique feeling of freedom is, I think, only unique to that particular, totally commitment-free situation.
God, that’s depressing.