Returning Home: It’s Not the Country That’s Changed, It’s Me

Now finished with her time studying for a semester at WHU-Otto Beisheim School of Management on the Student Exchange Program, Colleen Sauer reflects on her last weeks abroad. From her last European adventures, bittersweet partings with friends made abroad, reverse culture shock in the U.S., to the discovery of how much she has grown and changed from her experiences going abroad. She shares her message to students considering going global: “Just do it!”

When I planned to spend the semester in Germany and realized that I would be there for seventeen weeks it seemed like the time would pass slowly, and I would be so ready to return to the States at the end.  Well, if you talk to anyone who’s been abroad for an extended period of time, I’m sure they’ll agree that the time flies by, and before you know it’s time to leave.  During my last weeks I had countless fun, bittersweet moments with my friends and started to notice how much I’d learned and grown.

I am now officially back at OSU in the States, and it’s been so fun reflecting about my time and reminiscing to willing parties!  I definitely underestimated the existence of reverse culture shock though, I can now say that it is in fact quite a real thing! As strange as it may sound, given I can usually only understand portions of what’s said in German, I miss hearing German spoken around me.  Everything also felt oddly different, it was a bit odd.  I soon realized that the US hadn’t changed–I had.  But in my first few weeks when I’ve found myself surrounded by my family and friends and having as much fun as old times, I’m reminded how much I missed them and why I came back to the US! (Granted, I had already purchased my plane ticket and my German residency permit expired the day that I left.)

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The Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, France

I’ll talk a bit more about my recent post-abroad reflections later of this post. For now, I’d like to catch you up on the fun experiences I had in Germany since I last posted! My last major trip after London was to Paris over Thanksgiving weekend. It was a bit odd to not be with my family but from previous years of being with them as we excitedly called a family member that wasn’t able to attend, it was fun to be on the receiving end of that as the phone was passed around the table allowing everyone to talk to me.  My favorite part of Paris was visiting The Louvre and the Sainte-Chappelle, a highlight of those two events was spotting the Winged Victory statue at The Louvre.  An interesting fact that I often tell prospective students on my tour (I’m a university Ambassador at Ohio State, so I give tours of the university to high school students and their parents) is that what originally prompted me to visit Ohio State was the fact that they had a replica of Winged Victory at their library, and here I was a little less than four years later seeing the real thing!  That moment was so surreal.

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I nearly started hyperventilate when I spotted Winged Victory…

Another day trip I went on was to Heidelberg, Germany where I met up with my friend Troy Weider (find his exchange blog posts here!).  Troy was actually studying in Strasbourg, France at the same time that I was in Germany and we were both on exchange through the Fisher Student Exchange Program.  Two weeks before he left Europe to return home we realized that for how close we were to each other, we never met up while in Europe, so since Heidelberg was a midpoint destination we both wanted to explore we decided to take advantage of a free day and meet there.  It was much more of an exotic location for catching up than at the Union Market at OSU!  That was a fun day because not only were we able to see a beautiful town, but also relate to each other in so many ways about our adventures in Europe.

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Visiting with Troy in Heidelberg, Germany

In the final weeks of my time in Germany I stuck around Vallendar, partly due to the fact that I needed to study for exams, but also to make sure I was taking advantage of the time I had left with the friends I met at WHU.  I realized that I could come back and see Austria, Italy, and the other places on my list that I didn’t make it to, but it would be much more of a rare occasion to have all my friends from my time abroad together again.  Therefore my friends and I planned game nights complete with mini-golf courses organized around my Swedish friend John’s flat, trips to the nearby city of Koblenz to enjoy the Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas market) there, and plenty of meals together at our favorite restaurant in Vallendar called the Goldene Ente.

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Game night with some of my closes friends

It was so hard to leave Germany, especially not knowing which of my friends I’d see again.  I’d say being the only Ohio State student at WHU was such a wonderfully independent experience, but I soon realized that no one would be returning with me to Ohio!  But of course as the tauschies said their final goodbyes we all  invited each other to our various countries, so I now have people to visit and places to stay when I come back to Europe.

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The gang during our last Dancing@WHU Dance Class

When I came back to the States I had plenty of time to reflect on my time abroad, between making a photo book for myself of my semester and telling people about my time there.  Two big takeaways from my time abroad came from these reflections, the first of them was realizing how much I coddled myself when I first arrived, and how this could have potentially hindered my experience the first few weeks.  Before even arriving to Germany I imagined myself completely freaked out the first few weeks, and to combat that I told myself that I probably won’t feel comfortable travelling until the third weekend, and that it was perfectly fine not to.  Then here I was my first Friday in Germany, being invited to join a trip to Frankfurt the following day.  Looking back going to Frankfurt for a day isn’t at all intimidating, but going would essentially be taking away that comfort blanket of the “third weekend rule” I’d previously given myself.  With encouragement from my friends I eventually decided to go and had a great time.  If I hadn’t gone, I have no idea if I would have had the courage to leave Germany for Luxembourg the following weekend, or travel alone to Marburg to visit my friend Nora during my third weekend.  In all this, I learned to appreciate the value of having people around you to push you past your comfort zone, and the importance of being able to put aside “your plan” when a better idea presents itself.

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Köln, Germany

Secondly, I can remember a point during my first week when I was having a hard day in Germany and thought about my life at Ohio State.  I wondered what I was thinking leaving OSU, where I had lots of friends, was involved on campus, and generally felt comfortable. This is a point that I strived and longed for as a first year student.  Meanwhile, here I was in Germany not knowing anyone, not being proficient in German, and generally not fully understanding how things worked here.  Later in the semester I realized how much I had grown, learned, and faced my fears.  I started to think critically about how I had previously described my life at Ohio State as “comfortable”.  As a college student, I’m at a point in my life where I should be growing, making mistakes, anything but comfortable!  If I could impart any advice to someone after what I’ve learned last semester, I’d say they should face their fears, try something new, have an adventure, be challenged, just be anything but stagnant.

Somehow living abroad changes you in so many aspects, makes you think critically about your home country and life there, and teaches you in countless ways.  When talking with students who are thinking about studying abroad I am now a huge supporter of long-term study abroad programs, because I believe that the degree of independence and submersion into a different culture is where real growth and change of perspective occurs.  In the wise words of Shia Lebeouf’s hilarious motivational speech, “Just do it!”

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Colleen Sauer

Colleen Sauer is a junior at Fisher College of Business specializing in Marketing, with an International Relations and Diplomacy minor. During the 2016 autumn semester she is participating in the Student Exchange Program, where she is studying at WHU- Otto Beisheim School of Management in Koblenz, Germany. She gives tours of Ohio State to prospective students and their families as a OSU University Ambassador, and with Ohio Staters, Inc she promotes the welfare and traditions of The Ohio State University through projects and events. She has previously been to Honduras.