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Coming back home from exchange: Experiencing the exchange blues

view from a plane)

(Photo by Helena Bendix-Nielsen)

You may know the feeling. You have been on exchange or on a long trip abroad, and on returning home, you feel a little empty inside.

Your friends may still be there. Your family is waiting to hug you again. Your room may look just like it did when you left it behind several months ago. Your shelves in the fridge are as empty as you left them. Your calendar is fully booked. And yet somehow, although everything seems to be the same, something is different.

You are probably suffering from exchange blues, also known by some as the post-Erasmus syndrome.

I know I am.

“I miss you guys more than the Erasmus”

Shortly after returning home from Estonia, I asked my friends if they were also experiencing any form of exchange blues. One of them quickly replied that she missed our group of friends more than the exchange itself, and when I first read it, I became a bit teary eyed. I think that moment was when I realized that the whole experience was over:

We were not going to see each other the following day like we had done nearly every single day for five months.

I was no longer going to meet up with Kate in the lobby of our apartment building, hug Alisa by the bus stop at Vabaduse Väljak, or watch Michael and Pauline approach me from the other side of the road, waving enthusiastically. None of us knew when we would ever get to do those things again. We still exist, and Tallinn still exists, but the experience as a whole is a closed chapter.

a walk in the snow

(Photo by Helena Bendix-Nielsen)

However, when I had wiped the first couple of tears off my cheek, I realized how lucky we all are. Lucky to have each other, and to have shared so many precious moments together. We have done so many things together, embracing our lives and each other. It almost feels like we have lived a lifetime in a semester: cried over big and small things, laughed about Tinder dates gone wrong, slept in sketchy hostels across the Baltics, swum in minus-degree water, and spiced our tea and coffee with Vana Tallinn liquor. We have formed bonds. Connections. As a group of friends, and individually. And as I sat there, missing my new best friends, I realized that was why I felt a little empty inside.

I was empty. Everything I had become used to was suddenly gone.

I needed to adapt back to my regular life.

Back to normal

The first couple of days back home were tough. I quickly went to hug my mom and collect my cats, but even then, I had barely come to terms with the thought of my exchange being over. I tried to put the thought aside and focus on the positive aspects of coming home, attempting to forget about the empty feeling by reconnecting with my old habits:

Once again, I had casual weekday dinners with friends I had missed greatly while on exchange.

Once again, I fell asleep to the sound of my snoring cats on the windowsill next to my bed.

Once again, I could walk with ease on the sidewalk, no more skating around the layers of ice that had taken over the sidewalks of Tallinn.

And perhaps most importantly, I could once again interact with strangers without having to double check in a mirror whether I had chocolate ice cream all over my face. Even on a brief Sunday morning trip to Netto, the cashier spoke to me in more words than I have heard from all the cashiers in Tallinn combined.

I have gotten over similar blues before, and I am confident that I will recover by putting extra effort into kickstarting my life in Copenhagen again. However, I am not there yet, and for now, I am traveling to Poland to visit a dear friend from my exchange semester and hopefully relive the thrill of exchange for a couple of days.

Perhaps realizing that we do indeed still have a close bond outside of Estonia will help me get over the exchange blues, and reconcile with the fact that it was an amazing experience, and that naturally, all experiences must come to an end…

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