There is an incredible expectation which comes with being one of The Returned. One of those who has gone beyond the boundaries of their comfortable suburban existence and dared to brave the big, wide world. One who has seen things, experienced things, supposedly gone and conquered and returned all the wiser and grander. You get to carry yourself with airs and grace because you are now Travelled.
That’s the expectation. Of a sun-bronzed traveller returning home in triumph, proudly bearing their broadened mind, open perspectives and a rucksack filled with awesome Polaroid shots so often associated with spending an extended period of time overseas.
And hey, who am I to debate that romantic mirage?
But there is another side, the not-so-glamorous side, which stems from the same source but runs a very different course. It’s that overwhelming sense that you have changed and the world around you has stayed the same, and as a result, the pieces don’t fit so well together anymore. There is a bit of overlap, a slight crossover, but nothing fits where it used to. You don’t always notice it straight away, but it is there and it does slowly begin to rear its head.
Sure, this is part of the grand experience – it is to be expected, to be approached with anticipation even. But it can be debilitating, and that’s the part that they don’t tell you about. There is a sense of loss which comes with being more aware, and it is the scariest and most fantastic thing.
Nearly two years after returning from my Italian exchange, I am still lost. I left Sydney with very firm ideas regarding my studies, my future career and my relationships with those around me. But part way through, I lost sight of why I was so set on all those things and I lost sight of what I really wanted from myself. I still couldn’t answer that question – the grand and vast “What do you want out of your life?”
But I also came to realise that maybe it isn’t necessary to have all the answers. And that has been the most difficult thing that I have had to come to terms with – that I can’t always prepare, I can’t always know, and I can’t always be on top of absolutely everything. It sounds obvious, but it’s been a difficult truth to digest.
So, in retrospect, if you were to ask me what my semester abroad taught me, or what the impact of it was, I would tell you that it taught me that it is okay to have your foundations shaken and to rebuild them. It’s okay to be unsure and confused. Because if we never are – if we never reconsider and re-evaluate – how are we ever to learn and develop? And isn’t that the point – to always keep learning and growing?
I am on the brink of graduation, have no career and have just purchased yet another overseas ticket. I have no direction. I am one of the unsatisfied and slightly lost. And that is perfectly okay.