Monday, July 23, 2012

My attempt at sorting out my brain

I doubt there is anyone who is still checking up on this blog, but I really need to place these feelings I've been having somewhere, and this is the only place I could think of. Maybe it will be useful to other returnees or exchange students or whoever else, I don't know.

So it's been exactly 16 days that I have been back home. That seems very little, but honestly, it feels as though it's been ages since I've been in France. And that's not necessarily a good thing. AFS warns you about reverse culture shock, and warns you about how hard returning home is, but honestly, no one listens or takes it seriously. We're all mostly really excited to return home and see all of our family and friends, that we couldn't ever believe how being home could ever seem anything other than what it always was. We expect everything to be the same, which it is, but we don't realise that the one thing that has changed is us. It's like removing a piece from a puzzle and bending it in a different way and trying to replace it in the same spot. It won't work. It might still be able to be placed there, but it won't be a perfect fit as it was before. That's how I feel. But worse.

Don't get me wrong, I'm happy to be at home. I've missed my parents so much, and have learned over the course of last year how incredibly blessed I am to have been given the family I have. Being back into my actual physical home has been no problem. But beyond that, I don't feel like I fit anywhere. I'm seeing all the wonderful people that I've missed while being gone, and I'm glad, but part of me is resisting. I'm doing all of the old things I enjoyed, but I can't handle it. I feel that I'm having fun, and I'm laughing, and smiling, but the whole of the emotion doesn't sink in. I can't enjoy things thoroughly anymore. When people ask me how being back is, all I can say is "weird" because honestly, I don't know how to explain it to anyone who hasn't personally experienced it. Because it's such an intangible feeling.

I'm no longer the same person I was before I left. And honestly, the person I've discovered while abroad is the person I want to continue to grow with. But, the person I've developed only seems to have fit in the life I had in France. I was so adventurous, free, exposed to others and life in general. I was surrounded by so many different types of people in a culture that was foreign. I was constantly reminded that the world is huge and vast and inviting, and that amazing people are hidden everywhere waiting to teach you things you never even realised there was to learn. There was always something new to discover. A new church I hadn't seen before, a cute French shop tucked away in a corner street. Here, I know everything, everyone. I'm not able to savour in those advantages. So my personality that carried over isn't able to thrive as well as it did in France. That is why I feel so strange here. And that is why I'm stuck. I'm stuck because I can't return to the life I had before because I can't take away the things I've done in order to make myself the person I was before.

But I also can't return back to the life I had in France. As much as it kills me, breaks my heart, I will never be able to return to France, and have all my AFS friends waiting for me, with the same wild, open minds we had during this year. Sure, I will be able to go back and go to the same stores and buy the same delicious sandwiches and walk down the same beautiful streets, but I won't be able to call up my exchange student friends to take the bus from their houses into town, and I'll probably change even more by then as well.

Honestly, I keep having this repeating desire to just return to my very first month of exchange. I want to experience the thrill of meeting so many of the people I now love so much, and exploring the cities I really fell in love with, and feeling so blissful to be experiencing a whole new world, and a whole new side to myself that I hadn't known before. Before it started getting hard. Because I can't lie, it was hard. And it wasn't the best year of my life like people say it is.

But I would never ever take this year back. Even though it sucked the majority of the time, some of the best moments I've had have been there, and by far the most amazing people I've met where from this experience. For that reason, I'll never regret it.

And I know these feelings will probably calm down. Most returnees say the feeling of being caught between two lives never truly goes away, but that it does get better. But for now, it feels terrible.

Welly, I'm going to try to go to bed now. It's still hard to sleep, even though I've adapted to the time difference. It's been improving though.

Might just be the heat.


  1. You have summed up all of these emotions in a really truthful, eloquent way that I still haven't managed. - helen (afs italy 2011-2012

  2. Hey Elise! Your write very beautifully. I am really thinking of what you write about, this will not be easy for me either when I will return to Germany in 5 months. Know you're not alone!
    Leonie (AFS Missouri, USA 2016-17)