My Year Abroad is coming to an end. Apart from a fleeting visit in February, I have not returned to the Durham bubble since June last year, having spent the summer at home, four months in Austria and just over six in Spain.
I cannot wait to come back, but I have to say that the prospect is fairly daunting, as I have been away for such a long time. To say these were anxieties would be going too far; I am after all returning to a city I love and will be spending time with some of my closest friends. But going back does hold many unknowns, in a markedly different way to the transition between first and second year. This is of course not necessarily only relevant to those returning from a Year Abroad, although that is my personal experience, but also to those that have travelled over the summer or have embarked on a Gap Year between Undergrad and Postgrad degrees.
Whether you have been living in a foreign country doing an internship for 6 months, spending the summer volunteering in remote Africa or backpacking around South-East Asia, it is safe to say that your sense of independence will have grown drastically. You’ve navigated foreign public transport (quite a feat on occasion!), dealt with shop-keepers who speak no English at all, and have faced all manner of other innumerable challenges. Ironically then, coming back and having to rely on other people may present a challenge. While it will feel like plain sailing to be able to communicate easily again with people with no language barrier, and to have those first few weeks back at home when everyone is so over-excited to see you, pandering to your every whim, I can foresee myself – and some of my fellow travellers – needing more personal space and being able to handle things more easily without help, which people may not be used to: I can now phone the bank (for example) without a 10 minute pep-talk; trust me, that’s progress!
As with every adventure, changes happen in our absence, and this will be more noticeable for us Year Abroad returners; as I’m sure a lot has changed in the 15 months since I left. The arrival of Sainsbury’s where Burger King used to be seems to be causing quite a storm (I’m not sure exactly when it opened, so I apologise if I am wrong and you are all in for the same excitement that I am come Michaelmas Term). Important personal changes happen as well; friendship groups change, dynamics within those friendship groups change and people develop different interests. Adapting to these changes will not be without its difficulties.
However above all, I think the strangest thing we will be faced with will be the fact that we have changed. We have had to get through our time away, which – certainly in my case – has been tough, and have become much more independent and self-assured along the way. Obviously, to your friends this will not be much of a problem, they’ll be pleased to see you, catch-up and pick up where you left off back in June 2013, however, I for one know that my interests and preferences have evolved in numerous ways, so trying to re-adjust to Durham life will be an interesting process.
On a shallower note, the thought of going back to lectures, let alone at 9am, makes my heart sink. I would imagine that this rings true for a lot of people. After a 4-month summer spent travelling, interning, or relaxing in most people’s case, or a 15-month break for people who’ve been on Years Abroad, the prospect of sitting in a room for at least an hour, while having to concentrate and on occasion contribute, is not one that is eagerly anticipated – especially as I did not spend time doing ERASMUS study exchange at a University while I was away. I am fairly sure that the long summers, for the majority of people, are not filled with copious amounts of academic work, so having to focus for an hour or more depending on the subject, will definitely be a challenge. I’m also not sure I really remember the proper techniques for studying, taking notes, and writing by hand – YA problems…
Of course every September/October new Freshers arrive, to occupy the College bars, take up seats in the library and fill Klute and Loveshack. This in itself is as inevitable as the autumn harvest, and is by no means a bad thing, but there is always that feeling that on your return after your time away you want things to stay as they were. Imagine how it is for those that have been away for 15 months; there are two ‘new’ years to contend with. Those that will be in second year will now be well-established and know the ropes (and wondering who on earth these strange, clearly non-Fresher, people are), and obviously there will be the new intake of Freshers, none of whom we will know… Not only will we have to re-establish ourselves with this new influx, but for Year Abroaders and travellers returning for a four-year course or a Masters, the majority of our year group will have left, and there are people that I spent 2 years with who I will never see again, which is a sad thought!
For me, and my fellow YA/travelling friends, I am sure that we are going to end up annoying people with our constant jabbering about our time away. I can assure you I will unintentionally drop into conversation “On my Year Abroad…” or “Oh, I did that while I was away!” on many occasions. Truth is, the poor people who have to listen to us, genuinely do not care about the (hilarious and note-worthy) events that have befallen us –perhaps the first time of telling they do, but by the seventh their interest levels are waning and irritation kicks in… I can only apologise non-travelling friends; let us get it out of our systems!
Despite these misgivings, some of which are less consequential than others, I can’t help but think that returning after a long time away will be amazing, albeit it with a slight ‘first-day-of-school’ feeling initially. I could not be more excited to go back. My 15 months away were very much needed, and I am sure that I will appreciate this reality all the more when I return in a few weeks’ time.
Illustration by Lucy Sabin.