There are plenty of things to love about America. The thought that you can do anything, at any time, in any place. The potential for education, and the ability for political and social change. Don’t forget the burgers, either, or the sparkling white teeth that seem to shine out of every mouth. Baseball, the Bill of Rights, the national parks—all are things that find their way into the minds of many when they think of the stars and stripes.
On the other hand, there are very few people who would include the aesthetic loveliness of Newark Airport in the category of things to love about our dear country. And yet, just a few short months ago, that was the site of my re-indoctrination into American life.
I had just come back from Prague, where I’d gotten drunk with strangers, traveled to different places, met people from every corner of the world, and fallen into a life that was, though not hugely different, a departure from the flow back home. After four months abroad, coming back felt daunting. In New York I paid seven dollars for a beer and shed a tear for the one dollar beers I was missing out on back in Prague. Things felt more rushed, and it was strange to hear English spoken on every corner and at every subway stop.
Of course, things evened out, and I finally stopped wailing about the high prices to anyone who would listen. But still, it wasn’t the easiest transition, and all the things I was trained to love about America—the opportunities, the burgers, the fast pace—now felt foreign.
Other students returning from abroad felt differently. “I was curious throughout the program if I would have a difficult time coming back and what things would seem strange to me, but it was very easy to get back into my normal routine,” said Shannon Loughran, a junior who studied abroad in Paris this fall. “I haven’t found anything difficult to get used to since being back,” she continued. In fact, the hardest thing, she said, was getting used to calling the subway system by its American name again, instead of what they call it in Paris: the Metro.
Even those who studied at the same sites did not have the same experience coming back. Ben Walthall, a junior who also studied in Prague, shared Loughran’s experience. “It’s definitely been easier than I thought it would be. I thought coming back would have been a big change, but it’s easy coming back to your hometown with all your old friends and places you’re used to,” he said. “Coming back from Europe to a full month of break was definitely very useful for integrating back into the U.S.,” he elaborated.
That, at least, was something on which we could agree: the six weeks sandwiched between arriving home and starting class again this past Monday were more of a blanket than anything else—a sort of buffer for us to soften the transition. And there were other things we shared like the shock of coming back to NYU’s huge campus from the small communities abroad. “Living in Prague, I experienced the biggest sense of community I’ve had in my three years at NYU. You were close to at least a couple people in every one of your classes, and you lived with people in the dorms that you saw every day and became friends with. Now that I’m back, it’s weird to walk to class and see only strangers,” he said.
Still, the variation in these three stories—mine, Loughran’s, and Walthall’s—illustrates precisely how one person’s experience can be a far cry from someone else’s. And, as both Loughran and Walthall said, they weren’t even sure how they would react when they came home. It seems that there’s no predicting factor to tell you how you’ll adjust. You could see Newark Airport as your cement-clad knight in shining armor, or you could see it as an unwelcome wake-up call. As luck would have it, you won’t know until you get there.