What It's Like to Come Home From Exchange

Basically, it will suck.

So a few years ago, I went on a one-month volunteering trip to Thailand and had one of the most amazing experiences of my life. When I got back, I wrote a blog post about how post-travel depressed I felt and how I just wanted to get back there and relive the whole experience.

Oh 2015 Cynthia, my child, how unprepared you were.

Fast forward to today, 7 February 2017. It's been a week since I got back from my one year exchange in Hangzhou, China and although it's been quite nice to breathe smog-free air again and not almost get killed every time I try to cross the road, I can't say it's been easy to be back.

Let's not sugercoat it guys, it sucks. Like epic-ly. It's like going through a breakup but worse because you don't even get to keep the friends you made since they've all moved overseas. So then you try to distract yourself with activities before remembering that you're a student who gave up your job before going overseas, ergo poor AF. Consequently, you end up curled in your bed like a total loser, scrolling through old photos until your mum yells at you to take the trash out because of course, you've gone back to living at home.

As far as first world problems go, trying to readjust after coming back from exchange is pretty high up there. If I was to look at it objectively, it does seem pretty ridiculous. After all, I only spent one of my twenty-two years of existence overseas, where did all that pre-existing loyalty and love for my own country go?

But as those who've been on exchange probably know, in that one year or 6 months, you grow so much as a person. You basically build an entire life over there from scratch. And every day is an adventure, an opportunity to experience something new, so the return to mundane routine feels like regression, like you've taken 100 steps back. The friendships also feel accelerated when you're on exchange. It's easier to get close to people when you basically see them everyday, travel together frequently and spend many a night making full use of those 5 kuai ($1 AUD) tequilo shots at 9bar. It feels like I've known them for three years instead of one.

I miss the routine I had in China; the familiarity of the dorms, the campus, the city, and the way the lake changes every season. I miss the way we all became each other's family and hung out in the kitchens playing board games when the weather got too cold for going outside. I miss being able to meet people from all around the world, and see that there is more to offer from life.

Class 3.7, Semester 2, Zhejiang University (Yuquan)

But in saying that, I also know that exchange-life is not a sustainable lifestyle. As an exchange student, you don't have to deal with the responsibilities of work or long-term planning. Everything is about the here and now which I guess is why you are able to have such an amazing, carefree time.

I'm lucky enough to still have a foundation here, a home, a family, friends. Shout-out to my friends by the way. I appreciate that y'all still wanna hang out with me. And that most of you are cool enough to pretend to listen and be interested in my year overseas. (Even if you don't, 100% do not blame you because it's hard to be interested in something that didn't happen to you personally.)

Sidenote: Last night I told my mum I was feeling sad about being back in Sydney and she basically gave me the best wake up call ever. She said, "Well imagine if you had to leave your country permanently because of war. And you had to say goodbye to your friends and family, not knowing if they would ever see them again, or if they would even survive."

Mama Vuong, givin' it to me straight
I don't want this to be a post about me complaining about being back home - because it's not. Sydney is great and I know that with time, I will discover again all the reasons that I love it. And over these last few days, I've read a whole range of articles about people feeling similar emotions after coming back from exchange, with many saying that they'd done their year abroad in Australia. It just comes to show that it's not necessarily the place, but rather the people and connections that we make abroad that we end up valuing the most.

So to all those who've done exchange or study abroad before, I just want to say that I now understand what it's like. And to those who are about to go or planning to go, I hope you make the most of your time as it is one of the most amazing things you will ever experience in life.

West Lake, Hangzhou (西湖,杭州)

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