It’s been a whole eight months since I returned from my year abroad. Now, I don’t want to sound like one of those annoying gap year returnees, harking on about my profound new outlook on life, but being away did alter my perspective on a number of things and has led me to making decisions about my future that may have otherwise been quite different.
I didn’t have any big epiphanies or figure out what I wanted in life whilst I was studying in Hong Kong, or on the road in Southeast Asia. I was too busy having an absolute blast to really consider the big stuff. It was once I got home, and I had settled back into ‘normal’ life, that ideas about how I wanted to live my life gradually emerged.
I’m in my final year of university, so with exams it was never going to be as much fun as the year I’d come back from. Yet it was a sharp transition. I had gone from living somewhere new and exciting – a buzzing multi-cultural city with islands and beaches – to living on a campus university near Coventry, with comparatively little to do. Most significantly though, I had lost that “I’m here for a limited time only and need to make the most of each and every day” attitude. Instead, having spent most my money on my travels, I was spending a large proportion of my evenings sat in my room watching Netflix. I enjoy my course and it was great being back with friends but my ‘normal’ life was anti-climatic to say the least, and it was really getting me down.
For many, myself certainly included, the final year of university is stressful. It’s not just writing your dissertation and exams either, but figuring out what you are going to do next. Some people know, but for others like me the uncertainty was daunting. It was in this context, of feeling under pressure to figure out my future career and being dissatisfied with my current situation, that I realised that I should be listening to the part of my brain that was longing to be abroad again. None of the grad schemes, I wasn’t getting accepted to, appealed to me. Living in back London after graduating would definitely be better than being at Warwick uni – its a fantastic city, but I’ve lived there all my life and I wanted something new. What should’ve been so obvious, wasn’t initially because it was so different to what everyone else was doing.
I’d never had any plans to live in the Netherlands. It just kind of turned out that way. Spending a year in Hong Kong had allowed me to study Chinese politics and international relations of East Asia; subjects which I quickly discovered fascinated me. Taking similar modules back in the UK, I now had an idea of what I wished to specialise in and I started thinking about masters programs. Leiden University was suggested to me by my dissertation supervisor for its expertise in Asian studies and being taught in English, at the fraction of the price of a UK masters, it was a no brainer.
When I received my offer to study ‘Politics, Society and Economy of Asia’ I was ecstatic. I’ve not visited the city but I have heard wonderful things about it, and know far more than I did of Hong Kong before I went there. Maybe it’s just that the sun is now shining, golden daffodils are everywhere and I can see bunnies hopping around outside my window, but I am enjoying living on campus again. I have a year ahead of me to look forward to, rather than the dreary prospect of job hunting, and although I don’t know exactly what job I want, I have a rough idea of the kind of life I would like. Importantly I also now appreciate that I don’t need to have my whole lifelong career path mapped out. I would love to live in East Asia again (Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan, Vietnam…all good!) and I’m considering teaching English in China after my masters to help bring my Mandarin up to scratch. I think that having my masters degree and decent language skills should hopefully set me up for doing something I am genuinely interested in, whichever form my career ends up taking.
People tell you to prepare for the culture shock of living abroad. We are not often aware of the reverse culture shock that will hit us when we return home. We have experienced so much, yet life back home is just the same as usual and we fit back in to our lives as if we’d never been away. In so many ways this can be a great comfort, especially as we reconnect with friends and family, but for some of us it can at the same time be quite disheartening. Make the most of this time, and think about what it is you really miss and perhaps you can incorporate a bit of it into your current life.