Making the Most of Study Abroad and How to Cope with Coming Home

It’s been about a month since I left New Zealand and I still miss it terribly. Getting on that plane to fly out of Wellington was devastating to say the least. Every feeling of sadness that I had been suppressing in the weeks leading up to it bubbled up to the surface all at once as the plane took off and I watched the beautiful city that I had come to call my own disappear below the clouds. I’m getting choked up now just thinking about it.

Though I was super excited to go to Sydney, flying out of Wellington was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

I spent the following few weeks traveling to Australia and Japan before coming home, which was incredible! But it kept me distracted and prevented me from processing everything. So, after I came home and Thanksgiving ended and things calmed down, I took the time to reflect and check in with myself. Though I’m far from adjusted to being home, I’ve learned a few things that will help ease the transition if you’re currently or will soon find yourself in the same situation.

Before you leave:

Take pictures of EVERYTHING!

I was in a small shop buying souvenirs on Cuba Street a few weeks before I left and the cashier said she had studied abroad a few years earlier. She wished she had taken pictures of the little things and places she interacted with on a daily basis and advised that I do so. As if my Camera Roll wasn’t already chock-full of views of the city from my room and my walks to campus, I began to collect even more pieces of Wellington. And I’m so glad I did. Now when I remember walking home through the city and the streets I saw every day, I can look back on those pictures and preserve those small but significant memories.

This is the lovely view I woke up to every morning. I don’t think I’ll ever have another as good as this – good thing I took a million pictures of it!

Upon coming home:

Don’t get too comfortable right away.

The reason I say this is because, for me, coming home and being around all my old friends and family made me feel like I had never left. And that scared me because it was almost like I had already forgotten all of the ways in which my time in New Zealand has impacted me. It also made me afraid that the adventurous, carefree spirit that I embodied while I was abroad will fade away too once I return to my old campus next semester.

I was lucky enough to have a friend from VCU who also studied in Wellington this past semester and has been going through the same exact thing. Something she said that really resonated with me was the idea that we can preserve our memories of NZ and the ways it has affected us by focusing on carrying those changes through to our lives at VCU instead of seeing Richmond the same way we did a year ago.

My friend Kelsy and I enjoying fish and chips on a sunny day in Welly. I don’t know what I’d do if she wasn’t coming back to VCU with me next semester.

The person I became in Wellington and the things that I’ve learned there are still part of me and I know that will never change no matter where I am.

Thank you, Welly. I’ll always be missing you.

My favorite picture of Wellington.

Marlo Smith is a student at Virginia Commonwealth University and was an ISA Featured Blogger. She studied abroad with ISA in Wellington, New Zealand.

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