I remember 8 June 2010 like it was yesterday.
Opa took me to the Salzburg Hauptbahnhof (train station) well before the early hours of the morning. I hugged him goodbye and jumped on the train. I was heading to the Frankfurt Flughafen (airport) where I would officially end my almost-year abroad and return to the great US of A.
I tried my best not to cry, but as I settled in, turned on my music, and as the train pulled away allowing me one last look at that fairy-tale city I now called home, Imogen Heap’s song “Speeding Cars” started playing on my iPod… The first line did me in: “Here’s the day you hoped would never come…” I lost it. I became a sobbing, blubbering mess on the train and remained in such a state for the majority of the five or six hour ride to Frankfurt.
When I arrived at the airport, I went through passport control.
“How long have you been in Europe?”
“Where’s your visa?”
“…I don’t have one… OH! I have a residency permit!”
“I need to see it.”
“Okay.” I then proceeded to dig through my bag for the residency permit that I had discovered a week or two before had expired… Yep… I was traveling beyond my welcome. Probably should have checked the expiration date before I planned my last hurrah.
“Please move aside, Miss,” the passport man requested as I continued to shuffle through my bag for my little pink card…
“Oh! I found it!”
I waited… He stared at my card… He looked up at me… Looked back at the card… Looked up at me again, sternly…
“This is expired.”
“…Yes…” and I thought, “I’m just thankful nobody caught me on the train the last few weeks…”
He opened up my passport, stamped it and said, “You’re going home.” BAM!
I thought, “Well, that WAS the objective of my being here today… Oh my goodness… I just got kicked off the continent!”
After a long trans-Atlantic flight, I arrived at Chicago O’hare. My dad smothered me in hugs and kisses and told me how great I looked (I had lost 30 pounds, I had an INCREDIBLE Italian tan, and my hair was a beautiful sun-bleached blonde), and then we began our journey home. It wasn’t long before I started to whimper… I was happy to be home… But I-90 and Randall Road are not the most beautiful sights to be greeted by in America.
“Where are the mountains?… Where’s the Salzach?… Where are the trees?…” Tears gently tumbled down my cheeks… “Why is there so much pavement?”
That was only the beginning of my reverse culture shock. It continued later with how frustrated I was to depend on a car and how bored I was because everything was in English.
My dad smiled and said, “Now you might understand why I miss California so much.”
As we continued our drive home, my dad told me that, as requested, we would go to Los Burritos for Mexican food first and my mother would meet us there before we went back to the house.
When I walked into Los Burritos, my mother was there, as well as many of my favorite people from church and university. What an amazing surprise!
I stuffed my face with a torta and began telling the tales of the year. One friend asked me about my favorite place.
“I don’t have a favorite place. I have favorite moments.” I mentioned the obvious things like going to the Moulin Rouge in Paris and paragliding in Interlaken, but I also shared the simple day-to-day things that I loved about Salzburg such as sitting by the Salzach… And that’s when it first happened… I couldn’t remember the word “river” in English!
I sat there stumbling, searching for the word, playing charades and just LAUGHING. While my German was decent at this point, I was far from fluent! While trying to learn the language, however, I committed to saying a word in German if I knew the vocabulary even if the rest of my sentence was in English. I guess “river” had not been a part of my speech pattern in awhile…
It’s hard to believe that that almost-year abroad ended five years ago today. I am forever grateful for that experience. To anyone considering studying abroad, moving abroad, or just traveling abroad: GO.
I became more patient, more reliable, more assertive, possibly more Type-A… (I lived in Austria, after all…) I developed more hobbies and a love for the outdoors. I became an explorer. I became more independent. My experience made me stand out in a crowd, in a pile of resumes.
I don’t regret anything about my year abroad or a single penny that it cost me. And it definitely cost me. (There are cheaper ways to do it, young friends.)
Go. Don’t think twice. GO!
And who knows… your year abroad may only be the beginning of a life abroad.