The aftershock of returning to America

Back in the U.S., Brianna already misses her traveling group. (Photo courtesy of Brianna Gunter)

Well here it is: My final study abroad article. I can’t say that I never thought this day would come (because I adhere to the laws of time and common sense), but I can say that it appeared to come much faster than expected. Looking back on the past three months, however, I do find it pleasantly astonishing that I’ve learned and done so much.

I’ve been back in Jersey for a week now, and some of you have even seen me wandering around campus or working at the library (my part-time job of the last few semesters). While I honestly didn’t feel too “culture shocked” upon arrival in Costa Rica, I did feel that way almost as soon as I landed back at Newark Liberty International.

For example, it is really, super cold here; or at least it feels that way when you’ve spent all winter in a tropical country where the sun was always out. On a more awkward level, there is also an abrupt absence of wastebaskets next to toilets, and I am now expected to throw toilet paper in the toilet bowl rather than in the trash. I forget this almost as often as I forget that my friends here aren’t familiar with all of the latest Latin pop/rock songs. Of course, the weirdest thing of all is the sudden switch of everything back to English. My brain is now in a weird mix of two languages, and personally quiero hablar más en Español.

The hardest thing of all, however, has been the separation from the people I was with during my time abroad. Although I’m known for not shedding many tears or being that emotional in public (I’ve been jokingly labeled a robot on more than a few occasions), I was sobbing profusely while saying goodbye to my host family and friends. We had some great times together, and I know the main reason I felt so at home in Costa Rica was because of them.

There are, of course, many good things about my returning home, and seeing my family and friends again has been absolutely wonderful. “Absence makes the heart grow fonder,” and while I don’t remember who said it originally, that saying couldn’t be truer. That being said, I will say once more that I really do miss my host family and friends from Costa Rica.

Speaking of the people I was with on my trip, I now have a much better understanding of different cultures. I naturally assumed this would happen as a result of living in a foreign country, but I honestly never expected to learn so much about different cultures within the United States … including my own. As I may have mentioned in previous articles, the students in my study abroad group consisted of people from all different states.

While at times this created a few mildly uncomfortable social situations (the cultural differences between states and regions are much greater than you’d think), it provided a never-dulling conversation topic and helped us really understand each other (and ourselves) on a deeper level. I’ve come to respect those with beliefs and values that are the opposite of mine. We can still form meaningful friendships despite these differences.

As a journalism student, I’ve been taught that one has to strive to be impartial while reporting. Only this way can all sides of a story be told fairly. I now believe these same principals apply when meeting people. Put aside pre-existing judgments and stereotypes — you may surprise yourself by the friendships you form. Hey, I’m still surprised that I became such good friends with a super religious and conservative Texan.

Overall, though, I feel as though my outlook on life changed while abroad. I’ve always been a worrier when it comes to money and will likely continue to be (hey, journalism doesn’t pay much), but I’ve also come to realize that life is just too short to pass up on opportunities simply because of money. I did so many fun things in Costa Rica, and I now see no reason not to continue living it up just because I’m back in the states. I’m basically saying that if there’s something I really want to do, then damn it I’m going to make sure I find the money and time to do it!

I honestly hope with all my heart that I can return one day, but for now I’m going to continue living life to the fullest. Pura Vida.