Realizing Life Goes on After Study Abroad

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My index fingers tap on the seat rests next me in the small airplane as I wait for the flight to take off. A father and son sit next to me, or at least I think they’re father and son. I can’t really tell since they speak Maltese rather than English. I’ve just spent four months in Malta but I still haven’t learned a lick of their language.  Sitting here listening to Maltese for maybe the last time starts to bring tears to my eyes. I don’t want to cry sitting next to two men I don’t know. Meanwhile, the screens that drop down every few rows start playing the safety video of the cartoon king learning how to put his seat belt on.

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Maddie Bouslog

Soon, the plane starts to take off, taking me away from the home I built. I’m straight up bawling at this point. The guys sitting next to me keep talking like I’m not an insane person crying next to them. I can see all of Malta now. The small island looks so different from when I flew in, familiar and wonderful rather than scary and foreign. It’s insane how much your perception of a place can change in such a short amount of time.

When I landed in Malta four months ago, all I could only see the negatives of this beautiful country: too much construction, crazy drivers and a million people I didn’t know. As much as I wanted to be there, it scared the shit out of me at the same time. I felt super homesick and looked for any reason to go home.

Now, I dream of these beaches and the friendly but strong-minded citizens of this overly colonized island. I wish I could sip margaritas on the beach or have a weird conversation with the rude guy from small market next door. I wish so badly that I could travel back to my second home where I felt relaxed and accepted. For the first time since starting college, I’d felt like a part of the Luther’s community because I’d brought that community with me in the form of 11 other students.

Frances Stevenson

Frances Stevenson

A week later, I started a new job as a gardener and intern at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. Normalcy has set in. I’m back as a regular 20-year-old college student working a summer job. It feels like Malta never happened. My old friends stayed where I left them, at Luther. In my hometown, nothing has changed except for me. It feels odd to be home, almost like I never left, but I have four months of memories to remind me of my trip.

I know it’s rude to think that people weren’t living their own lives while I was away, but everything feels the same. But as for me, I feel so different than what I was four months ago. After going back to school in the fall this feeling has grown deeper. I feel like either this college has grown past me or I have grown past it. It took me a while to settle back into a routine that doesn’t involve weekend trips through Europe and only going to class two days a week.

Frances Stevenson

Frances Stevenson

My friends made new friends and so did I. I have memories that only make sense to a few people in my life. There are so many things I cannot put into words, like our favorite restaurant just down the street in Malta or the feeling of riding a camel at midnight in the Sahara desert. Not being able to communicate that longing for a place so far away makes it that much harder to explain why I seem so different. In some ways I feel happier, in other ways older, more mature, with a few laugh lines and a gray hair or two. Maybe I’m just stuck in the past and in a place I can’t go back to yet.

It still feels weird being back. The places I spent everyday in seem like only a few miles away instead of across the ocean. The sea air lingers in my nose and the cold breeze rushes over my face when I wake up. I can taste the mojito made by my favorite restaurant and hear the laugh of the friends I left behind. I love being home but I will always love Malta and I hope to go back as soon as I can.

Maddie Bouslog

Maddie Bouslog

Frances Stevenson is a staff writer from Luther College in Decorah Iowa. She is a senior graduating with an English and Environmental studies degree and the Features editor of Luther's student newspaper Chips.

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