We were supposed to watch a movie last Saturday. The good old recipe: Talent Square, a couple of friends, take-away pizza. Out there, there were young international people like us dancing the night away and we were planning on joining them later.
That’s what studying abroad is all about, right? The second an exhange student steps on a plane, they are actually given a new life and a new identity. The life of endless parties begins. Listening to Brazilian top hits, trying the Hungarian home-made pear liqueur (don’t recommend), making authentic tacos together with your new best friends. Day trips to exciting new cities, showing your face at the uni twice a week and kissing a handsome stranger on the dance floor. To be young, single and living the adventure of a lifetime!
If your studies abroad only consist of beer-spilled cantuses, pub crawls with an ESN shirt on and jumping to idiotic but loveable carnaval music, you’re only getting half the cake. ”But when you go home and try to fall asleep at 5am, you actually just feel empty and lonely”, my German friend said on that Saturday night and burst the international student’s bubble.
Then everything went right.
Tears started running down my Dutch friend’s face. He had something to share. He’d had a bad day that opened up some old scars: of bullying, of being left out, of being laughed at. We all glanced at each other: five serious, tired faces. In fact, none of us felt like partying.
Instead of putting on make-up and joining the rest of our group at the bar, we decided to stay in and make some tea. Slowly, we started sharing the stories behind the fake smiles. One had failed his pre-Master and was disappointed with himself, but couldn’t show it in front of the always-so-happy group of successful Master’s students. Another was adrift with his identity: two passports, three home countries and now the Netherlands. Two of us had recently lost a close relative and skipped the long-hyped Carnaval so we wouldn’t have to pretend we were having a good time.
I walked home with a friend who lives nearby. On the doorstep, we discussed the current developments of the futile attempts to form a government for Germany.
”It’s getting late”, my friend said, ”time to get some sleep.”
I wished him goodnight, closed my door and took off my shoes. Brushed my teeth, changed into an old Red Hot Chili Peppers t-shirt and crawled into bed. Smiling, for a change – alone but not lonely.