One semester abroad can pass by in the blink of an eye. And before you know it, the time has come to say goodbye and go home. I have met many people during my time abroad at Universidad Casa Grande in Guayaquil, Ecuador, who felt like they did not have enough time and wished to stay longer, at least a little bit. On the other hand, I have also met exchange students for whom time seemed to pass slower; despite all the fun, they struggled to fully adapt and integrate to their new home and lifestyle. They were sad to say goodbye, but also relieved to return to familiar surroundings. I am currently enjoying my second semester and I have had some unexpected realizations. Let me tell you a little about them:
Picking Your Well-earned Fruits
Obviously, you have more time to immerse yourself in the culture if you decide to stay a full year abroad. Better yet, you can deepen the social bonds built up in your first few months. During the second semester I am now finally able to communicate the complicated stuff for which I previously hadn’t had the vocabulary or advanced language skills. While the language acquisition is rewarding, what I actually enjoy most is having a sense of orientation. I personally mapped my host university, the neighborhood, this city, this country. I have figured out what buses to take, and where I can buy the books I want. I know how to plan or not to plan my schoolwork, and I don’t have to stress about it. I know where to find a good dentist, and if I don’t know something I at least always know who to ask for help.
Traveling to new places definitely still excites me, but I do not feel stressed anymore about wanting to see every little corner of the country. I seem to have arrived at the point where I say to myself “I may not have seen everything here, but I have seen a lot, and I am ready to go home in a while. I’ll just come back some other time.” From what I have heard from others, it seems very normal to simply be ready for this at one point. Who knows how long it may take you, but you too will arrive there some time, somehow. You cannot ever see everything anyway. On the contrary, I now realize that I have the time to go back to my favorite places. If I go to the beach now I always go to the same one, because I like it the most. Simple as that. I also have my favorite desk in the library and on my free mornings I like to lie in the hammock on the terrace the most.
Time Does Not Solve Everything
I am sorry to reveal this inconvenient truth, but yes, all these benefits are not without difficulties. After more than six months it can still be hard to be far away from home. Especially if you are in a long-distance relationship with someone back there. I still hate this difficulty. Time does not make you immune to homesickness. It obviously depends on the person, but it keeps coming and going in tides.
Further frustration may fall upon you because you will realize that you cannot or do not want to get over some differences that are simply too big or against your personal liking or principles. Or on the contrary, it may be too late to adapt. The great thing about arriving in your new home abroad is that you can introduce yourself as the person you want to be. However, after a couple of months, people know you. You cannot reinvent yourself as easily anymore because you have a reputation and expectations to either live up to or confront.
Last but not least, a lot of traveling is fun, but not free. So keep track of your spending and maybe make an actual plan for your finances. I don’t know about you, but I really do not want to finish my year full of adventure and independence by borrowing money from my parents.
Knowing When to Leave
To sum it up, whether a second term will do you good mostly depends on your first semester, so if you arrive and you find yourself well, stay and pick the fruits of your hard work of adaption and learning. However, if you are having major troubles and cannot really get comfortable, don’t force yourself and go home. Obviously, you cannot know these things beforehand. Whatever may be the case though, it is generally easier to shorten your stay from a full year to only one semester than the other way round. So I wholeheartedly advise you: apply for the full year experience, give it a try, do yourself a favor and provide yourself with this opportunity! You will not regret it!
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