The end is in sight. The real world beckons. My year as a foreign exchange student is almost over, and knowing I am about to go home and leave this all behind scares me.
Our multicultural group of Brits, Americans, Belgians, French, Germans, Italians, Argentines, Australians and Chinese will probably never be back in the same room as one group again.
The joy of my life in the USA has been defined by its unpredictability – deciding on a Friday night to go to Philadelphia for the weekend, going to see NASCAR and the Kentucky Derby in consecutive weeks, finally winning a game of squash at the University of Maryland campus.
So now, the anticipation of returning to England does not excite me. Not just because of the nail that landing at Heathrow will hammer into the coffin of this year of a lifetime; but also because when I return to the University of Liverpool, I only have one year of my studies left before I have to enter the world of full-time employment (of course, I could always spend another year or two traveling, but my bank account probably has other ideas after an excessive year in the USA).
I don’t like to think about the thought of actually having to take on some responsibilities, but the fact is that I have to.
And so, with the real world looming, I have been thinking about the value of this yearlong diversion; how it has formed the path I want to take and how I can make use of it.
A man more cynical than I would say that studying abroad will look fantastic on my resume. Indeed, I am sure it will, especially for British employers since far fewer British students study abroad than American students.
But when my friends and I have contemplated why we made the decision to come to the States, two main reasons stand out: firstly, to live in a new culture, and secondly to travel and see new places.
After some debate, I think that the two are inexplicably linked. I have lived in Maryland for almost a year and so have definitely acquired some understanding of what makes this place work and what makes Marylanders tick (for the record, it is crab cakes and football).
At the same time, I have relished the opportunity to travel, and have done so almost every week, be it just to travel 20 minutes into the heart of Washington, D.C., or to fly further afield to Boston.
Living abroad and traveling abroad definitely give you two different perspectives on life in America, but they ultimately lead to a similar result: your mind is broadened, you meet more people from all walks of life and your tolerance for other people and other cultures expands.
I’m not yet sure exactly what this means for me in concrete terms. Perhaps this is the reason why I feel the need to write about this now; because, I suppose, I know that this year has changed me, but I am not entirely sure how.
I know I am more confident, and I think I have become a more well-rounded individual. But the fact is, until I return home and start living a somewhat less extraordinary life, I don’t think I will really be able to appreciate just how important and how formative my year abroad has been.
Right now, as I sit in a hotel room in Texas on day one of my month-long tour of the south before I fly home for good, I am filled with a strange mix of emotions: emptiness and melancholy that I have left many of the people I have become incredibly close to over the past few months, but also excitement and anticipation at what now awaits on my journeys in the south, as well as a kind of fear of the unknown about how I will mix back into the university and the country I left behind, or even whether I will want to when I get back.
I guess all I can do now is live as I have done all year, by taking one step at a time and each day as it comes through this unpredictable, tangled and messy mystery of life.