When preparing to set off for my year abroad in Madrid, Spain this time last year, I anticipated the feelings of culture shock, loneliness, and restlessness that were likely to come with moving to a new country alone. What I didn’t expect, however, were for these feelings to resurface once I arrived home. After a year of teaching, tanning and tapas, the long days in the library and grey, English winter that lie ahead suddenly seem alien.
I arrived home back in July, and my first few months in the UK were filled with catch-ups and home comforts that meant I was pleasantly surprised at how easily I’d seemingly re-transitioned. However, I couldn’t shake the sense of dread that began to creep in as I started packing to move back to university. These unpleasant feelings only intensified as September arrived and I headed back to Manchester, and I’ve been dealing with them ever since.
It may sound dramatic to others who haven’t experienced similar circumstances, but the ‘post-year abroad blues’ is surprisingly common. Speaking to friends who have spent the last scattered year all over the world reveals a trend of struggling to adapt back to a life that was once so fulfilling and familiar. I think what I’m finding so difficult is that I just didn’t expect to feel this way- I loved my second year, love Manchester and felt so supported and comfortable with my life here. I expected to slot right back in where I left off.
Instead, many of my closest friends have graduated and moved elsewhere, I have completely fallen out of the rhythm of university study and overall am not the same person I was before going to Madrid. My year abroad changed me in countless ways: from small things like my taste in food and how I spend my free time to those much bigger, such as my plans for the future and perception of myself. It’s only natural that this new version of me doesn’t quite fit the into gap I left behind.
All this to say that if you’re also newly back in Manchester and feeling like everything is a bit overwhelming, you’re not alone. Here are some ways I’m trying to beat the blues.
Embrace feeling like a fresher again.
Frankly, it feels absolutely bizarre to be in fourth year, yet also feel as if I’m starting university all over again. However rather than fight it, I’ve decided to embrace the fresher feeling and jump in with both feet. I plan to go to the societies fair and join something completely new, even if I’m surrounded by first years. I’m going to walk around campus and gradually reacquaint myself with building by building ahead of term starting again. I might even buy myself a UoM hoodie, just to get back into the spirit. Though it may feel cringey, see this new start as your last chance to get the most out of your university experience, trying as many new things as you can.
Set yourself a schedule.
I spent my nine months abroad as a teacher, rather than a student. Working in a secondary school as an English Language Assistant, I swapped writing essays for marking them and listening to lectures for delivering them. I absolutely loved this break from the intense cycle of university education, but the thought of returning to long hours of studying and essay writing now feels really intimidating. If you studied abroad, you may not feel the same, but nevertheless workloads are often very different abroad, and results may not have carried the same weight that final year in Manchester does.
To combat this and readjust to the demands of final year, I plan to be pretty strict with my schedule and work during set hours as much as possible, mimicking that of a job. I’m also going to try to dedicate one day a week as a ‘day off’, when I don’t think about studying at all. This will hopefully keep me on track and prevent the overwhelming feeling that comes with a seemingly endless to-do list after enjoying months without one.
Discover the city
A massive part of a year abroad experience is the opportunity to travel, discovering not just a new home-city, but also often the surrounding cities and even countries too. In comparison to the constant discovery of being abroad, Manchester may feel pretty small, familiar and uninspiring. However, this will only be the case if you let it.
The truth is that sure, you may already know Manchester quite well, but there’s always more to discover. From the city centre to the suburbs, or from neighbouring cities to nearby national parks, there are plenty of opportunities to be a tourist. Find your new favourite bar, visit a new museum, take a day trip or work your way through UoM’s ‘100 things to do in Manchester’ list (100 things to do in Manchester | Welcome to Manchester | The University of Manchester). I can’t believe how few of the sights I have ticked off, even after multiple years in the city. Buy a train ticket, romanticize your life a little and see what you discover.
Reach out to old connections, make new ones.
One thing I didn’t really anticipate when moving back to Manchester is how lonely I would feel. Some of my best friends have graduated and moved away, beginning exciting new lives as graduates. My cohort for the first two years of university has also now graduated, meaning I’ll be surrounded by completely new people during lectures. Even the comforting familiarity of recognising faces in the library, in big Sainsburys or a Fallowfield bar now feels as if it has been stripped away, friends of friends who I’d bump into and chat with who I will now probably never see again. All of these factors mean I don’t feel the sense of community I used to, and my support system in Manchester now feels much smaller.
However, I keep reminding myself that if I created a great network of friends here once, I can do it again. Reaching out to old friends, flatmates or course-mates that may still be in the city, joining societies or volunteering are just a few ways I plan to meet new people. I’ve also found social media to be a great tool to discover events and community groups, as well as meeting new people through existing friends. If this seems overwhelming to you, commit to attending to one event a week with the sole intention of socialising.
Don’t be afraid to reach out for help.
Though feelings of loneliness, sadness and isolation are understandable when navigating this massive transition, it doesn’t make them okay. If you feel as if it’s all getting too much, speak to someone who can help. This may be friends you shared your year abroad with, friends and family at home, or professional help if needed. The university offers various mental health support services to students (Student Support | Taking care of your wellbeing | Mental health support | The University of Manchester) that can point you in the right direction to getting the support you need.