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Homeward-bound: back from a year abroad

Just as welcome week and partying leaves the minds of freshers at the start of their time at UEA, dissertations, isolation and aging is pretty likely to remain the minds of final year students.

Flickr / Phil Ostroff

For those of us who have been on a year abroad, this feeling is even more mixed with a return to the simultaneously nostalgic “small-town” wonder that is the city of Norwich.

Although it might be easy to settle back into being a UEA student, there’s a weirdly bewildering sense of loss or change – call it the post-year abroad grieving process.

For a start, a year abroad will turn you into a learning addict. Going from 14 hours a week over five days to four hours a week over one day is a lot less appealing than it sounds.

There’s only a finite amount of time in the week that can be filled up with watching repeats on BBC iPlayer, nursing a hangover and pretending to do your reading – some things never change.

It’s also mildly infuriating to go back to a culture where making points and asking questions in seminars and lectures isn’t socially acceptable. Yeah, we all get the importance of being the cool kid, but it makes class horrifically boring and no one wants to be having a three hour one-way conversation.

Add to that combination unreliable transport, perpetually depressing weather and extortionately priced alcohol (it’s $17 for two litres of Smirnoff in California) and you have all the makings of one of those omniscient, angsty third years you admired in awe as a fresher.

Having said that, there are thankfully many awesome things about being back in England and at UEA. Although having to swap a bear for a bunny as a mascot is an anti-climax, it’s nice to know that the weirdest animals you’ll encounter on campus are the new cows and not human-hungry mountain lions.

Norwich as a place is the safest city you will probably visit in your life, and it’s unlikely you’ll find yourself praying for life at 5am because of a relatively minor earthquake, or recounting a narrowly-missed triple shooting the night before.

Yes, there are no spontaneous weekend trips to Vegas and the closest thing to jacked Californian frat guys are generic Hollister pretty-boys, but it’s a fair exchange for not having to turn visiting your best friend into a two-week road trip or paying $70 to see the doctor last minute about that fresher’s flu.

At least you’re so close to your friends that you can pop down to the Langtry for a pint and a catch-up or give each other sympathetic looks in those dreary 9am lectures, where even the professor has no idea what he’s talking about.

At the end of the day, university is not about how much you’ve done but what you experienced on the way, and none of it means anything without friends to share the memories with.

Despite all the rose-tinting, most study abroad years are certainly no bed of roses and it’s all too easy to only remember the good parts over the bad (sharing a bedroom in dorms, visa problems and no drinking ‘til you’re 21).

Getting to final year after three long years of hard graft, and starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, is a great feeling, even if the year ahead is full of late nights in the library obsessing over dissertation quotations.

But whilst you’re all busy being nice students and helping out confused and lost little freshers, spare a thought for the fourth year students old-timing it at the Tuesday LCR and dying a little inside when everyone around them has never heard Destiny’s Child’s Bootylicious before because it was before their time.

13/11/2012

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elizabethjackson



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