Since landing at O’Hare the first day of January, I have spent every waking moment of my winter break with friends and family doing the very things that I had so desperately missed while I was halfway around the world for five months. My very first stop on American soil? Culver’s with my dad. Hey, a girl needs her cheese curds. And then, despite my jet lag, I had to immediately go hiking at my favorite place: Devil’s Lake State Park. It made me realize how much I had actually missed snow (even what little of it we actually have here in Wisconsin right now) while I was in the Netherlands. There has been nothing better these past few days than sitting on a lake with my best friends, freezing my fingers off just to catch a few fish. And, my cat has finally forgiven me for abandoning him for so long. Basically, I had missed home – and it missed me – a LOT.
But being home has also made me realize how much I changed while I was away. Even my mom and brother noticed it while they were visiting me in Amsterdam the last week in December. I like to think that I have become more empathetic, more patient, and more understanding towards those around me. Living in Europe definitely increased my sense of self-awareness. Now back in Wisconsin, I have been desperately trying to readjust. There are just certain differences that I can’t help but notice. In the Netherlands, stores don’t throw plastic bags at you like confetti. Here, the Walmart check-outs make me cringe. And the reliable public transportation back in Europe makes me pause every time I have to fill up my gas tank in my rural Wisconsin hometown. Probably the biggest constant reminder that I am no longer in the Netherlands is the English. I can actually understand the language being spoken around me. But, I still often times find myself automatically saying ‘dankjewel’ instead of just ‘thanks’.
I didn’t expect to miss so many things. While a cold wind from the lake harshly blows snow against my window, I think back to August and riding my bike past cows as the sun set. My friends in Wageningen are probably eating gelato in the city center and browsing markets filled with fresh haddocks and glühwein. And sure, there are good places to get coffee here but none of them have the same mouth-watering, homemade apple pie that I ate every Tuesday, all fall. I guess it’s just easy to say that I would much rather be dipping french fries in mayo while exploring an art history museum, instead of reading a boring geofuels textbook.
In reality, studying abroad wasn’t just a rendezvous of carefree days in foreign cities. Sure, it was an AMAZING experience, but it also simultaneously took a huge emotional and financial toll. Emphasis on the financial. But those same challenging times have allowed me to grow into a more independent person. My five-month journey has returned me to Wisconsin with new perspectives, friends, and ideas. So, I am excited to see how I can carry those things with me not only here in Madison this semester, but going forward in the future as well.
I wish I could share all of the pictures on my phone that I have taken while I have been in Europe, but I think it would take about a gazillion years to upload them. That probably falls on me, as I *accidentally* took hundreds of shots of every semi-artsy thing that I did while I was abroad. If you are still reading this and you care, feel free to get a glimpse of some of these digital memories @bethprochnow on my VSCO, Instagram, and Facebook. But know that they are only a fractional portion of the ones I took. I guess my phone’s extensive album is more so for my own memory and reminiscing purposes rather than anyone else’s enjoyment.
Back in Madison, it is nice to see all of my friends again. I moved into a new apartment and I have started not only a new semester of classes, but also a new internship. The crumbled bag of stroopwafels that my mom carried all of the way across the ocean and the torn Van Gogh poster hanging in my room are now just two gentle reminders of my time spent abroad.