It’s crazy for me to think that I’m coming up on one year since I studied abroad in Austria, and almost two years since I went to Japan. I looked forward to going abroad so much that it’s hard to believe I’ve finished all of my undergraduate time abroad.
Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m done traveling–the idea of going to grad school abroad, or even just moving abroad once I graduate and finding a job in a different country, is definitely at the top of my list of possibilities! But in honor of these anniversaries coming up, I decided to write a post about the everyday things I miss the most about studying abroad.
Speaking Another Language
Since I returned to the US I’ve continued taking language classes in both Japanese and German, but it really can’t compare to the exposure of using that language every single day, over and over again. For example, in my everyday life I have two opportunities to speak Japanese: when I talk to myself and just decide to do it in Japanese (which, yes, I do a lot, and probably makes people who pass by me think I’m crazy), and when I ask my phone what the weather is going to be, since I still have it set to Japanese.
But when I was in abroad, I was constantly thinking in and using my German and Japanese for everything from mundane tasks, like paying at a convenience store, to much more intimidating ones like filling out my Austrian residency forms and giving directions to taxi drivers. Even if I wasn’t always thinking 100% in that other language–I just don’t have enough vocabulary to do that, especially in Japanese–constantly being ready to recall vocab and accents to speak the other language was what helped my language skills grow so much, and was also a ton of fun for me. But in the US, I don’t have to do that because everything is in English.
I remember very clearly how I would prepare Japanese sentences and vocab in my head in anticipation of whatever I was about to ask someone. Near the end of my trip, I was drinking an iced coffee and thinking that I would have to do that more often in the US; I’m more of a tea drinker overall, but in Japan there were vending machines on every corner that sold delicious milk coffee for about $1.50, and I really liked it. (This may have been partially due to the cute cans that it often came in.) I thought to myself, “I could go to Starbucks on campus and order coffee, but I’d have to think of how to ask for them to also add milk to it. Hmm, that could be hard, how would I say that…? Wait. English. I’ll be speaking ENGLISH. I can literally say, ‘Can I please have some milk in it too.’ Wow. Imagine that.”
I’m pretty sure every student who studies abroad will agree with this one. Once you come back, it’s great to have your “normal” food again, but pretty soon you really just want to eat the things you took for granted while you were abroad. I even miss the foods that I didn’t initially like, but now seem so iconic of the food I could find while abroad. I particularly miss the roasted chestnuts I could buy from street vendors all over Graz and the cheap convenience store onigiri in Kyoto. So convenient. So delicious. So definitely not available over here. Sigh.
Take a moment to picture a regular chain coffee shop in your head. If it’s anything like my local venues, it’s in a generic strip-mall style building, probably with a standard taupe-colored exterior. Not so in Dublin! Whether it was to preserve the historic center of the city or just that space is such a premium downtown, the local not-Starbucks was housed in a gorgeous copper-domed building complete with stone coats-of-arms and Greek-style pillars.
Walking to the university campus in Graz every day, I would often take detours down side streets just to admire the beautiful architecture all around me. It was surreal to realize that the centuries-old buildings with such incredible exteriors held regular businesses like H&M, grocery stores, and gyms.
I’m sad that my undergraduate study abroad programs are over, but I know that I’ll be living abroad again in the near future. I love experiencing so many aspects of other cultures, not just the ones listed above, and I can’t wait to see what new experiences I’ll have in the future!
If you’ve been abroad, what are the everyday things that you miss now that you’re back?