Welcome to this week’s That One Time In – the feature where fellow travelers share their stories of travel, adventure and everything in between. If you would like to take part please get in touch – firstname.lastname@example.org or @WhereinWorldKP – I would love to hear from you!
This week’s That One Time In features Ashley Preninger who discusses her “Post-Europe Depression”. This is her story:
You get a strange feeling when you’re about to leave a place, like you’ll not only miss the people you love but you’ll miss the person you are now at this time and place because you’ll never ben this way ever again.
The night before my departure back to the United States after an unforgettable four months abroad, my program director called for a meeting before our final supper. She sat us all down and tried to prepare everyone for the culture shock that would be the return to the United States.
“Your friends, they’re only going to listen for so long. They’ll get sick of hearing your abroad stories over and over again. Your parents, they’ll listen longer but after awhile they’ll lose interest too. The only people you have left to relive your journey with are the people in this room. All the people you’ve met here in Florence are the only ones who will understand what you’re going through.”
We all looked at each other with playful confusion on our faces. We knew going back would be hard, but she was preparing us as if we were coming back from war. I began to think about my life back in America and came to the conclusion that our director was probably just exaggerating. I had a wonderful family, great friends, and a beautiful city waiting for me back in the States. Maybe there were other contributing factors in her personal experience that made returning so hard. But as for me, I wasn’t too worried. It only took a few days to realize how spot on she actually was.
The morning had come for me to leave Florence on April 24th and like most of my experiences in Europe, it didn’t seem real. I had gotten really good at getting up at the crack of dawn, racing to the airport, dealing with the language barrier at security and hopping on a plane to my next adventure. This weekend routine had become second nature – the only difference from this trip to my previous ones was I wouldn’t be returning. I slept for about ninety percent of the sixteen-hour trek home. I fell asleep in Florence, Italy and woke up in Charlotte, North Carolina. And the second I stepped off that plane, it was as if I was walking out of a four month long dream.
America instantly felt weird. The customs line was an absolute mess as people from all over were packed into lines like sardines. It took us an hour just to get through, unlike the customs in Europe where you literally just walk under a doorway. The TV monitor above the line welcomed everyone in about twenty different languages to correspond with the overwhelming amount of diversity among everyone. It didn’t feel like we were in America – it felt like we were in the epicenter of a melting pot for people all over the world.
Once we passed through customs and got to baggage claim of the Tampa International Airport, something happened that I didn’t expect. It felt like I had never left. The lax feel of the airport, the comfortable creep of the humidity through my hair, the scent of my mom’s car – everything was exactly how I had left it. By the time I had arrived at my house, Florence felt like a lifetime ago. But feeling like I never left made it so much harder to adjust back to my old lifestyle. All my habits and tendencies that I inhabited in Florence were suddenly gone. Instead of waking up at ten or eleven, I slept until two. Taking a twenty-five minute walk seemed absurd. Hours started to be defined by my TV guide. I had changed so much in Europe, but the second I got back everything became the same. It made my trip that much more unattainable. I was a different person over in Italy and I didn’t know how to get that part of me back. It was as if when I left Florence, I left apart of me there as well. And I think the only way to find it is to go back.
Among your friends, they will listen. Your true friends will be so eager to hear about all your crazy adventures that they only saw at a distance. You’ll catch up on their lives as well, but you’ll notice that everyday problems your friends have, the problems you used to have, are superficial and not worthy of any time. A lot of these issues revolve around social media – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. are once again right at your fingertips and you remember how much angst it used to cause you.
The food is obviously very different. Everything in Europe is so fresh and untouched – unlike the food here in the United States. Sure, there’s a lot more variety. But I don’t think I’ll ever be able to find a batch of strawberries in the States anywhere near the deliciousness and juiciness of the ones in Florence. Dinner goes from an enjoyable night out with friends to a twenty minute, necessary sit down as you’re glued to your phone. In Europe I would go to dinner with my friends on any given night for three, sometimes even four hours long. The waiters were always the same and made every restaurant feel like home. But here in America, going out to dinner merely means you’re just too lazy to cook. There’s no sense of bonding and deep conversation at any dinner tables over here.
The hardest part about coming home is the answer to the inevitable question…“How was your time abroad?!” Parents, friends, old teachers and even strangers will ask you this question so much that if you had a dollar for every time someone did, you could pay for a plane ticket back. After a week or so you realize no matter how you answer, there isn’t a collection of words in any dictionary that will communicate just how amazing your experience was. A little part of you dies when you start to say the same response over and over again, “It was amazing. Definitely the best experience of my life.” People will nod, say good for you, and move on. But only you and the friends you made in Florence will know just how epic and unforgettable your adventure was.