I remember during a study abroad information session my freshman year where the presenter created a metaphorical chart of happiness post time abroad. Right upon return, happiness is at an all-time high because you get to reunite with family and friends, and then it dips to an ultimate low because you realize that all the things you had tried to escape from (for me, graduate school applications and impending graduation) comes catching up to you. After that dip, happiness comes slowly back to your “base” happiness before you left in the first place.
I have gone abroad twice now: the first to Thailand, and the second to India. When I returned from Thailand, the transition perfectly followed the sequence I was told. I had an initial honeymoon period, an existential crisis, and a subsequent recovery period. But following my time in India, my chart of happiness has looked more like this:
When I returned from Thailand, I was at a loss because I had gotten so comfortable in Asia. I loved the prices, food, language, culture and people. I had honestly invested a ton of time into establishing a physical home in Thailand, one that I could comfortably live in for years if I had the chance. Dallas became the place I was stuck in, the back-up plan. But post India, I have really had to confront the idea that for now, I am in transit. Sure I will be on campus for the next year to finish out undergraduate studies, but I have already been traveling for interviews, trying to decide where exactly I want to spend the next couple years of my life in, and planning out next trips abroad. I became decently comfortable in India, but Dallas does not feel as much as a home to me as India did. There’s a new air of impermanence to SMU.
I must say, having an interim home is not a bad thing at all. As you can see from my chart, my happiness is at a greater level than it was when I left. I still have the same stressors, but the thing that has changed is that I feel much more comfortable with the fact that “home” is transplantable. Home can be in Thailand where I got by as a fake Thai person (someone who looked Thai but definitely could not speak the language well), or India where I stuck out like a sore thumb, or America where I have spent 97.8 percent of my life in. It’s almost like a serenity with wherever I may end up for graduate school or otherwise. If I end up in Alaska or Armenia, at least I know now that I can probably find that setting comfortable—and eventually enjoyable—over time.
Home, as best as I can put it, is the anticipating future. It’s something to look forward to because I haven’t quite discovered it. And I don’t think I could have ever come to look at the future so optimistically without having been able to go abroad as much as I can. To all those trying to get themselves out there in the world, just do it. I promise you’ll get hooked on the feeling of searching for more.