Today marks exactly a year since I left to fly off to Singapore to begin what was the best year of my life. This blog has been very neglected for the last month unfortunately so there is a couple of entries missing about Laos and Cambodia that I will hopefully get round to writing soon. But for now I just wanted to write an entry remembering the year and trying to put into words how I’m doing now, a year on, and after a week of being back in the UK.
To be honest I am struggling with re-adjustment, I know it hasn’t been long since I came back but the reverse culture shock has hit me very hard and it’s very difficult to explain to anyone. I have no reason to be sad or lonely as I have been surrounded by friends and family, visiting my uni to see my friends graduate and celebrate with them and lots of other things beside! But I feel almost lost in my own home, in my normal life. If I felt this isolated when I was in Singapore (I’m assuming culture shock is similar but I was lucky enough not to suffer from it) then I would be on the first flight home. I want to escape my own home.
Obviously I like being home, don’t get me wrong. Spending time around my family does make me happy, but the constant and sometimes overwhelming excitement doesn’t exist within the bubble I grew up in. I am never really pushed outside my comfort zone like doing my first ever dive in the sea or volunteer teaching in the Philippines or even attending my first ever lifesaving swim training. Again, I love my home comforts like for example I am sat here with a mug of Heinz tomato soup and toast which is perfect but I got so used to not having home comforts so I made my own – now I wake up in the morning and crave kaya toast and half boiled eggs or a bowl of noodles. That feeling of home sickness which you might have felt going on holiday for a few weeks, I feel that, but the opposite for a culture most couldn’t relate to here.
I hope I’m not taking away from others experiences who have been on years abroad, but I feel that few had the same vast culture difference I did and also made friends who are all locals to that country. I had the privilege that from Christmas I spent most of my time with just Singaporeans, submerging myself as if I was a true student at NTU and being shown Singapore from a locals perspective. Not to belittle others achievements but I think very few exchange students miss their exchange for the place and the people, but not the other exchangers who they can meet in another country but the people who I left behind, whose lives in Singapore continue almost as if I wasn’t there.
I wouldn’t change a thing about this year; 10 countries visited, so many friends and memories made including friends who I hope I will return to visit in the coming years. But the return is as hard as I feared. I am lucky to have such wonderful friends and family who I know will support me and hopefully I will gradually adjust. It can even feel hard to talk to people about it, I obviously love telling people about my year but I wouldn’t want to sound too cocky or too “gap year”! And when I get asked “how was it?” or “what was your favourite bit?” it’s so overwhelming! How could I possibly convey anything about my experience of a whole year in just one answer. I hope I can be forgiven for either talking too much or being very brief, it varies so much from conversation to conversation as to how I answer – just to mix it up for me. I also hope I can be forgiven for occasionally just bringing up things in conversation if I see a menu with an “exotic” dish that I have so many memories with – like the other day I saw Ban Mian (a Vietnamese sandwich) but it reminds me of so many things. For fear of sounding melodramatic I feel like I shouldn’t talk too much especially to people I don’t know too well. This is a mental state that I’m sure I will adjust to, but it’s not quite “amazing to be home” and it’s not so wonderful to stop travelling for a while and relax. Travelling is an addiction and believe me I am hooked.
If you think I’m over reacting I’ll forgive you because this is clearly a very personal experience that will vary even among those who may relate. But please do not think me rude if I’m a little bit upset every now and again even when everything is normal, because there is a part of me that is finding every day, even the little things like breakfast, slightly strange and unsettling.