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June 30, 2022

From Morocco to Maryland: avoiding post-study abroad blues

By KATIE QUINN | September 11, 2014

There’s a city in Morocco known for being painted a very particular shade of blue. High up in the Rif Mountains, Chefchaouen’s pale blue walls seem to reflect its very place in the sky.

The color of the city, along with its proximity to Tangier, brings in droves of tourists each spring and summer. People flock to see the blue walls, to walk the blue streets in dusty sandals.

I visited the “Blue City” this past April as one of my last study abroad adventures. The color of the city walls cemented Chefchaouen as one of the most uniquely beautiful places I’ve ever seen. Then, a few weeks ago, about a month and a half after I returned to the US for good, I saw Chefchaouen featured by one of my favorite travel magazines.

The feature triggered a range of reactions. First, a general sense of excited recognition — I had been there! I had walked those streets. One of those blue tiles sat on my desk! Then came the second wave of emotion — nostalgia — not just for Chefchaouen, but for adventures. I missed planning long weekends, getting to go places I never even dreamed of visiting.

The third wave of emotions was more prolonged—the simultaneous desire and fear to look at my own photos from Chefchaouen. This reaction, I now recognize as symptomatic of what is quite literally, the post-study abroad “blues.”

Everyone who has studied abroad has probably heard about or experienced reverse-culture shock — the sudden recognition of everything being so American. But something much more difficult to put a name to are those simultaneous feelings of wanting to be back home and wanting to go back abroad.

As my first “Postcards from Abroad” column back in the US, rather than another city guide, I thought it might be helpful to write about ways I’ve found to fight the study abroad blues. Here are the tips:

1. Stay in touch.

With your host mom. With that French classmate you traveled with for a weekend. With the British suitemates that told you about their favorite restaurant in London. With the Australian best friend you can’t believe is halfway around the world.

Being away from people you connected with while abroad can be hard, but the permanent loss of connection is even harder.

It’s important to keep the conversations going, even if it’s only every once in a while. Just be sure not to lose touch forever. Email, text, whatsapp, snapchat, whatever. Find a way to keep in touch — you never know when you might have the chance to meet those people again, at home or abroad.

2. Make reunions happen.

The same tip can be applied to people from your program who are back in the US with you, either at Hopkins or at another nearby school. These are the people who will just “get it.”

They know what it’s like to be back, and what it’s like to miss Dublin, Paris, Barcelona — wherever it might be. And while you guys might not be skydiving just outside Sydney, or planning that weeklong Croatian adventure, it’s still fun to see one another, to wonder about what this year’s group is doing, and to talk about the time away. You never know, maybe the group will even plan a few weekend trips closer to home.

3. Make your own adventure.

Just because abroad is over, doesn’t mean it’s time to stop traveling. Make a Baltimore restaurant bucket list. Go to a North Carolina beach for the weekend. Take too many pictures on a night out in DC. Go to that place just down the street you always wanted to go to but never actually did.

The Hopkins workload can be overwhelming, and figuring out life post-abroad is tough, but the best way to keep away the study abroad blues is really to surprise yourself with all the things you can experience closer to home — oftentimes with friends and family you missed while abroad. In some ways, it’s the best of both worlds.

4. Satisfy the cravings.

Everyone has that one food or drink that you never expected to like, but now can’t live without. For me, it’s strong Spanish coffee. I once laughed at the small teacup sized portions, dreaming about large iced coffees. Now, though, I would give anything for the smallest café con leche. Nothing compares. Carma’s lattes simply cannot compete.

But at these reunions, during these adventures closer to home, it is possible to satisfy the cravings in some way. There are Spanish tapas places in Baltimore. Manchego cheese at Eddie’s may be $10, but if needed, it’s there. That bar in Fell’s may have your favorite Danish beer that you didn’t even like to begin with. Find it, or make the dish it yourself. Ask your host mom for the tortilla recipe, and make it. While it might not taste exactly the same, it will have to do for now...

5. Daydream about going back one day.

While it might be a dangerous path to go down, it’s okay to think about going back one day. Maybe next weekend is a little too soon, and maybe daydreaming about abroad life all the time is a bit unhealthy, but it is okay to think about returning. It probably will happen sometime in the future, in a few years, maybe even during a gap year or summer break, but the opportunity will come up. We will make it happen. We’ll be older, wiser and ready to make the trip.

Most importantly, we will know what to expect. We will appreciate the blue city and take a little piece of it back with us once again.

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